Bluetooth Model Train Control

OK train people, I haven’t written much about model trains recently, but this Kickstarter project is very interesting. Basically, this small board which would be added into the model locomotive would enable you to control your trains via a Bluetooth device such as an Apple or Android phone.

BlueTooth Control

As much as other hobbies have advanced over the years, model trains have gotten a bit stuck. Or maybe we should say “derailed”? Anyway, the trains are still, for the most part, controlled via power and signals over the track. This is often called driving the track instead of driving the train. While DCC helps with that, it still relies on the track for the power and the computer signal to reach the train. The goal everyone would like to get to would be for the track to be support only, as they are in real life, with power and controls coming from the locomotive itself.

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A Choice of Simple Tools

My primary requirement for a tool is that it stay out of my way. Ok, so maybe that is requirement number two, right after the requirement of the tool fulfilling its purpose. But honestly, if a tool can perform its required function then the next most important characteristic for me is that it be as non-obtrusive as possible. This applies to simple tools like screwdrivers and hammers as well as more complex tools such as computers and their software.

Simplicity ToolsWhen I pick up a hammer I expect it to be able to drive a nail into a board. I do not need it to have a compass to guide the way or a light to illuminate the path. Such things would only add needless complexity to the device and would thus get in my way. It is the simplicity of the device that makes it both useful and appropriate. The same goes for a screwdriver. Multiple attachments, lights in the body, and fancy sheathing may sound attractive at first, but when I am trying to get a job done those added complexities could actually make the job more difficult. The beauty of simplicity is that it represents just enough. Just enough to accomplish the work – not too little so that you require more time or tools, and not too much so that extra effort is expended.

This simplicity is also how I choose software. I am an Apple fan; there is no doubt about that. But I am an Apple fan for a reason. I will not deny, not in the least, that Windows and Linux may be immensely more configurable than Mac OSX. But that configurability adds a level of complexity that I find in no way necessary. That configurability actually gets in my way. I feel the same way about the Android mobile operating system versus IOS.
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Nexus 7 Tablet Six Month Review

I have had my Google Nexus 7 Android tablet for a little more than six months now. You can see my early impressions of it back when I talked about using it as a mobile computer. I feel that I have been using it long enough to take a good look at it and summarize my feelings. My summary – I really don’t like it. Sorry, I just don’t.

Google Nexus 7 TabletThe most obvious problem with the Nexus 7, and actually the problem that bothers me the least, is that it is just too small. This is really a personal preference. I know quite a few people who prefer the smaller seven inch form factor to the nine or ten inch tablets. I am not one of them. It is great that I can slip the tablet into my pants pocket or easily hold it without any arm fatigue, yes. On the other hand I find myself zooming in far too often. Often enough that I notice it; it interrupts my experience, and makes me switch over to my laptop. On quite a few occasions as I have been lying in bed using the Nexus 7 I have found myself setting it aside to get up and retrieve my laptop. That boils down to the tablet just not working for me. And when I have wanted to do simple book reading I still prefer the non-backlit basic Kindle or … horrors … a real book!

Ok, other than the size we could talk about apps. Google Play, the Android app store, has come a long way. I have to say that there is almost no app that I want that I can’t find. Play can be a bit cluttered and hard to pick through at times – kind of like searching for a gem in a flea market – but in the end I do find what I need. The good apps are free or reasonably priced, and I have never had any complaints with what I have found. I stopped using alternatives, like Amazon’s app store, simply because I didn’t need them and I didn’t like have to go to multiple sources for updates or searches. My summary of the app experience – great. Not an issue at all. Oh, and I love Chrome. Best mobile and desktop browser there is. Continue reading “Nexus 7 Tablet Six Month Review”

Google Nexus 7 as Mobile Computer

I have had my new Google Nexus 7 tabletir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B008M04V1E for about 6 weeks now, and I am getting more and more used to the way it works. I also continue to find neat litte surprises hidden in the system – such as if you attach it to a mouse you get a real cursor to use! (Wish the iPad had that.) So now I now have my 7″ tablet paired to my Apple wireless keyboardir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B002TMRZOQ and my Rocketfish Bluetooth mouseir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B001CBRVQ2. Seems to work pretty well actually. And everything is Bluetooth, so there are no extra cords or adapters to carry around.  Now, if I had had this when I was vacationing up in the mountains this past weekend I would have actually typed some emails and blog posts. I think.

Google Nexus 7 tabletThe screen is still a bit small, but that is to be expected on a totally portable device. But, is it that portable if you are lugging around the keyboard (which also has 3 AA batteries) and the mouse (which has 2 AAA batteries)?  And with those devices attached, you would have to assume an extra drain on the Google tablet with the Bluetooth turned on all the time.

So what is the weight difference?

Well, the tablet weighs in at .75 pounds, but with case we are going to call it an even 1 pound, the keyboard at 1,25 pounds, and the mouse at 13 ounces (so lets call it .75 pounds). That gives us just 3 pounds total. Not bad. Consider that the Apple MacBook Air 11 inchir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B005CWJ8YA weighs in at 2.38 pounds. The MacBook air weighs less and has a 4″ bigger screen! But, in reality, with the power packs it is probably a toss up between the two, and the MacBook air will cost you around $600 more than our tricked out Nexus 7.  Trade offs? The MacBook Air can run more “real” apps, is faster, has a larger screen, and a lot more storage space. But the Nexus 7 is more portable, has a touch screen, and in a pinch (without our mouse an keyboard) could be slipped into a large pocket.  It can also be recharged off almost any USB outlet where the MacBook Air will require a real power outlet.

If you have access to the Internet, either wi-fi or tethered to a smartphone like I do with my iPhone 4Sir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B006FMDVDK, then the lack of storage space on the Nexus 7 isn’t that big a deal. You will just store your media, documents, and music in the cloud. You do need to think ahead though for those times when you will be totally out of contact so that you aren’t stuck looking for that one file you forgot to copy down. Consider though that the MacBook Air has only 64 gig (we are comparing to the low end model here folks) and you will see that you aren’t going to be storing your entire media library on there either.

While we are talking about being out in the wild, let’s talk about battery life.  While I haven’t tested the battery life of the Nexus 7 with the Bluetooth turned on, you can still expect to get 8 to 9 hours easily. That is with active use. If you aren’t using it much so have it on standby, it will last much longer of course.  The MacBook Air should get around half the battery life of the Nexus 7 in similar usage. That would be fine if you don’t need a full day out and can recharge ever evening, but if you have it out and in use constantly all day, you may find yourself monitoring your usage or looking for a power outlet to recharge.

Now one of the odd things I find different between the two is just levels of expectation. Since the Nexus 7ir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B008M04V1E is smaller and originally just a base tablet, I don’t find myself expecting as much out of it as I might of the Air, so I am inclined to be less disappointed. With the Air being more expensive and essentially a “real” computer, I find myself disappointed when I try to do real computing tasks like run Windows 7ir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B002DHGMK0 in Parallelsir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B008YTAKJA or Photoshopir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B0093FROMA or some other heavy program that takes not only processing power, but also screen real estate and memory.

Google Nexus 7 Tablet Initial Impressions

Now, why the Nexus7  when I already have an iPad, a Kindle, an iPhone, and two computers? Well, first of all probably because I can’t resist toys. 😉 Secondly, the two computers don’t count as they have dedicated work uses and really are not the everyday, take anywhere, kind of devices that a Google Nexus 7 Tablettablet is. Thirdly, I will actually be passing on the iPad and Kindle, most probably. Finally, in self defense, I actually didn’t buy the iPad, a first generation one, but won it. So, that was no expense. But it was my gateway drug and I really have gotten used to a tablet.  I will admit to being an unabashed Apple fan. Since my iPad is a first generation though, it is starting to seem a bit slower and I actually feel it is a bit big and heavy sometimes. I have to type on it with two hands, and reading on it is harder because of the weight. That is why I bought the bottom of the line Kindle.

My wife has a Kindle and loves it. I tried her’s and really liked the reading experience. I found I could read much faster on the Kindle than on paper, and I also like having lots of books, articles, magazines, and technical references available at all times. What I didn’t like is having another device.

Which leads to the Nexus 7. It has the capabilities of the iPad (for the most part) but the smaller portability of the Kindle. It’s back-lit screen is a little harder on the eyes than the Kindle’s e-Ink, but not horribly so. I was worried that the type on the Nexus 7 would be too small for my aging eyes after using the iPad, but I don’t find that to be the case. The screen is quite clear and, of course, it is easy to zoom in.

The iPhone is a totally different case, so really doesn’t figure into the decision. Oh, and that decision looks to be – the Kindle will get passed down to my 16 year old son to read his school literature assignments on (and whatever other books he can come up with), the iPad will get passed on to my wife to replace her laptop that died last year and never got replaced, and I will keep the Nexus 7 as both my eReader and on-the-go email and work tablet.

As a side benefit, almost totally unrelated, I found some great automobile diagnostic software for the Android called Torque that, when paired with a $20 Bluetooth OBD II Scannerir?t=palmettobugdigit&l=as2&o=1&a=B0076KBPNI from, will let me diagnose problems with my car. This is great not only for my current car, but will tell me a lot about used cars when we got to buy another one. It is similar to the little sensors that insurance companies are now trying to get people to put on their cars.