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My Mobile Games – Timberman for iOS Impressions

Every so often I check the App Store to see if there are any noteworthy apps to install on my iPhone. Usually there isn’t too much there, typically apps like Facebook Messenger and Clash of Clans are at the top, but every so often comes along an addictive casual games that’s well worth downloading for some quick fun. Flappy Bird fit into this category perfectly, and now it’s Timberman.

Timberman is quite a simple game. The aim is simple, keep chopping away at a tree while avoiding the branches. You can on either the left or right side of the screen with the tree in the middle. Each time, you chop a chunk of the tree out and the tree drops down a bit. As you keep doing this, branches are also coming down. By tapping on the right or left side, the Timberman switches over to the other side of the tree to avoid the branch. You must keep going in fairly quick succession before the timer runs out.

As you can see, the game mechanic is super simple, yet it’s so addictive. By getting higher scores, you can unlock different characters. As a nod to Flappy Bird, one of the final unlocks is the bird itself, dubbed “Lazy Bird”.

The game sports a retro art style and music theme, the music portraying a sense of urgency as the tree keeps coming down and you have to frantically chop away.

It’s a great little casual game, perfect for a pick up and play in short bursts. The unlocks make you want to achieve a higher score too. Definitely check it out if you’re into these sorts of casual games.

Grim Fandango at E3

Grim Fandango remake coming to PC, Mac, Linux as well as PS4

This is probably some of the best news to date in video gaming! I’m a huge fan of Grim Fandango, possibly my favourite adventure game ever. For those who never played the Lucasarts classic, it’s an adventure game set in the world of the dead, post life, about a travel agent who sells packages to get through the underworld. Yep, not exactly how you would’ve imagined the afterlife to begin. Manny Calavera has had the worst luck, only managing to sell cheap packages meaning he’ll never pay off his debt.

I don’t want to get into too many spoilers after setting the premise, so I won’t talk more on the story for now. The gameplay is keyboard controlled adventure, very similar to the classic point and click adventure games such as Sam and Max or Broken Sword. I’m definitely excited to see this coming to PC, Mac, Linux as well as the PlayStation 4 (as announced at Sony’s press conference at E3). Whether you’ve played it before or not, it’s a must-have for any fan of adventure games.

Dell Mini 9 Netbook Impressions

In my last blog post, I wrote about installing Lubuntu on the Dell Mini 9. Since then, I’ve been using the Mini 9 quite a bit, almost as a primary machine for day to day use and a bit of work when needed. On the whole, it’s been pretty good especially considering it’s a machine from 2008!

Shell

As I’ve said before, the build quality is superb on the Mini 9. It definitely feels very solid, and my brother used to lug it around in his bag when he used to use it at university – without a case. Even then, there are hardly any scratches on the Mini 9. It has a glossy finish on the front surface, similar to other Inspiron laptops.

The sides are kept pretty clean even with the ports. The left side has the power socket, 2 USB ports and an SD card slot. The right side has an Ethernet port, VGA output, single USB port, fan grill for ventilation and the usual mic and earphone ports.

The front and back of the laptop are kept clean. The front side has just two LED’s, one for power to show whether it’s on or not, and the other for battery to show whether it’s charging. It’s a bit annoying that there isn’t a WiFi LED, but the default operating system has notifications to show whether it’s switched on or not.

Screen & Keyboard/Trackpad

The only things left to talk about hardware wise are the screen and keyboard/trackpad. The screen is 8.9″, supporting a 1024 x 600 resolution – not bad for this screen size.

The keyboard does feel cramped and takes some getting used to. For casual use, it’s fine. For heavy use, I’d recommend using an external keyboard. The buttons on the right side of the keyboard become very compact, making it easy to press the wrong key. The Enter/Return key is a single line key too, so if you’re used to bashing the key you may want to rethink that.

The trackpad is very good for a netbook. It’s responsive and the buttons actually properly press down for good feedback on a click. It may feel a bit tiny especially compared to normal trackpads on other laptops, but certainly usable.

Battery

I haven’t been able to assess how good the battery is on this netbook, since the battery I’ve had since 2008 is fully flat. This means the netbook will only work when plugged in. I’ve ordered a new replacement battery, but in the meantime official specifications state the battery can last up to 5 hours. I reckon realistically you’d be looking at 2-3 hours with WiFi switched on.

Operating System

I never tried the Mini 9 with Windows, but the default operating system was an older version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix. For beginners, it’s probably a fine OS, but for anyone wanting to get a bit more out of their netbook, it’s not too great. Obviously now, it’s massively out of date and not even supported – Ubuntu Netbook Remix was swallowed by Ubuntu and packaged in as part of Ubuntu Desktop.

By default however, it came with a bunch of applications for you to get started right off the bat. It had its own office suite, used Firefox for internet browsing and a range of other useful applications.

It’s also good to know that Windows would work on this, but you’ll need to really customise that installation to fit on the 8GB drive. There are other models of the Mini 9 with 16GB, or you can change the drive yourself.

Performance

The netbook has an Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz processor. These processors were mainly used as they were energy efficient and meant you can get some extra battery life. Performance wise, it allows for an ‘okay’ experience on the whole. It obviously depends on what you’re planning to use the netbook for, but stuff like YouTube videos feel a bit slow. I have been able to watch some 720p videos just fine on this from a hard drive however, but I’ve noticed if you have a chunky file, then it’ll start getting choppy with the audio and video going out of sync.

For stuff like word processing, spreadsheets, etc., the netbook is fine. I even tried Google Drive without any issues, so I’d be quite happy to use the Mini 9 for some productivity related tasks. I’ve tried it for work too, where I remotely connected via LogMeIn through Firefox. This wasn’t too great an experience, partly due to the low resolution meaning I couldn’t see too much of my work screen. Also, the sluggishness is noticeable, the mouse often lagging slightly behind. I’m sure this isn’t due to any connection issues, as I’ve remotely connected from my MacBook Air without any issues.

Summary

So all in all, the Mini 9 is a good netbook for on the go use. The portability of it is great and it’s a solid little machine. If you’re planning on doing some more processor-intensive stuff regularly, you may want to invest in something better – but realistically you’re not going to be going out and buying one of these since they’d only be available second hand from places like eBay.

I’m planning on using it for casual use and may plug it into an external monitor and keyboard/mouse if I need to use it for more work related tasks. I see it as quite a useful netbook to have for on the go – not afraid to chuck it in my bag and for it to take a few knocks!

Dell Mini 9 and Lubuntu 14.04

I’ve had a Dell Mini 9 sitting around in the original box for quite a while, and haven’t used it for anything in years. It used to be my brother’s netbook of choice, he even managed to get through part of his university course using it. Luckily it wasn’t used for anything too technical, mainly just Internet browsing. Netbooks aren’t exactly powerful enough to be used for much else, but they are very useful machines to have around.

The Dell Mini 9 has the following specifications:

  • Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB SSD Hard Drive
  • 1024 x 600 Resolution 8.9″ screen
  • Wireless 802.11b/g
  • 3 USB Ports
  • VGA Port
  • SD Card Reader
  • Ethernet Port
  • Earphones & Mic Ports

As you can tell, it’s a pretty modest at best machine and certainly pales in front of even the cheaper laptops of today. However, the thing I love about it is the form factor and build quality. Dell made a very robust and portable netbook here. The casing is smooth without any bits sticking out, meaning it’s easy to throw it in a bag without worrying about anything snagging. Due to the size, it’ll fit very easily into any backpack or messenger bag. The only downside was the pre-installed operating system which felt sluggish and was horribly outdated. They did sell a Windows version, however I never tried that one out.

It came pre-installed with Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a customised version of Ubuntu meant to be lightweight enough for netbooks, with a focus on ease of access. It came with a specialised application launcher to quickly find apps and even Internet bookmarks to fire them up asap. However, the whole experience is rather annoying for me, I just want a simple desktop without any of this bloatware.

I did a bit of searching around and found that the Ubuntu Netbook Remix doesn’t exist anymore, and had since been merged into the Ubuntu Desktop version now. While I’m sure I could probably customise the installation to fit onto the 8GB hard drive of the Dell Mini 9, I didn’t want to spend long doing all of that plus then customising further to make it run at a decent speed. I came across Lubuntu, a light version of Ubuntu which aims to work with much older hardware. After downloading the ISO and burning it to disc, I used an external drive to install it on the Mini 9.

Just a word of advice if you are planning on installing this, make sure you have an Ethernet cable available. Some of the installation process involves downloading updates from the net, so it’s best to just get all of this out of the way up front. I also found after starting up the first time, there were still a few updates available, so I did those too (my wireless wasn’t working, as I’ll explain below).

The main issue I had was being unable to get my wireless working. The Mini 9 has a Broadcom BCM4312 wireless card and Lubuntu was unable to pick it up. After Googling around, I had to simply do the following in Terminal (Ctrl + Alt + T):

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bcmwl-kernel-source

Do check what version of the Broadcom wireless card you have, as those may not be the correct drivers for you to install. There’s a very detailed post here to get the correct drivers installed and working.

That installed the necessary drivers and after a reboot, I had my wireless card being picked up. However, I then noticed that there wasn’t a network icon in the taskbar. That’s a pain. Googling found the following on Lubuntu’s blog: http://lubuntublog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/lubuntu-screencast-network-manager.html. Turns out it’s a known issue with the latest release so you have to add the icon in manually, which is quite easy to do.

After that, I was good to go. Lubuntu boots up in about 45 seconds including login, which isn’t too bad. It then runs fine too, I’m able to watch 720p movies from an external USB hard drive just fine. Internet browsing is generally fine too, although it can feel a bit slow depending on what website you are on, or if you have a lot of tabs open. Lubuntu comes with a good range of necessary applications installed, such as Firefox for Internet browsing, Transmission if you’re into downloading using torrents, Galculator, Image Viewer, Document Viewwer, LeafPad, etc. You can certainly get by with everyday computing very easily using the out-of-the-box installation of Lubuntu. It just works.

If you want some more software, then there’s a Software Centre for you to find and download applications from. Think of it like an app store, so it’s pretty easy to find new bits of software. I’m very happy with the default installation of Lubuntu with a slight bit of customisation. My main use for the Mini 9 with Lubuntu will be as a casual portable machine, with the capability of remotely connecting to a more powerful machine using either LogMeIn or a remote desktop client. I’ve yet to look into remote desktop clients for Linux, but I’m aware there are a couple of good ones around.

You may be wondering how much hard disk space do I have left after installing Lubuntu. File Manager says that my hard drive has a capacity of 5.9GB, and 2.8GB free. That’s not too bad for everyday use, provided you don’t want to download large files and store them on the Mini 9. If that’s something you’re interested in doing, then I’d recommend getting a portable external hard drive.

This entire blog post was written on the Mini 9, giving you a good idea that it’s perfectly capable for typing. The only slightly annoying thing is the size of the apostraphe, full stop and slash buttons. As you can see in the pictures below, the below gets pretty cramped on the right hand side. It’s a trade off for the size though, although it does have an odd position for the Delete key.

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