## Early impressions of my RaspberryPi

Last year I ordered a RaspberryPi; I wanted to check out the hype and, who knew, maybe I’d get a decent media (or at least music) player out of it. The machine arrived right in time for Christmas, together with an SD card preinstalled with Raspbian and a USB power supply.

Wow, the CPU of this thing is slow. I was lucky to get the new version with 512MB RAM, I guess. Any CPU-heavy task feels extremely sluggish, be it aptitude, X or — beware! — watching videos. The GUI software package that comes with Raspbian is all but useless, too, so I soon decided to stick to a native terminal.

I was quite disappointed with the video performance which resembled a slide show; I had wanted to use the Pi as media center, after all. So I did some research and learned that there is apparently only one player which can harness the hardware video decoding capabilities the Pi has to offer: the OMXPlayer.

Turns out Raspbian with OMXPlayer does a better job of playing full HD videos than my gaming PC, and without the noise and barely any heat. Of course, you should not start X but run the player from shell (yes, that works!); not the most intuitive interface — and you have to change the terminal font if you use a big TV — but very efficient. Files are stored on an external HD connected to another PC which the Pi mounts via ssh. So far, I have not experienced any problems with this setup.

The only sore point has been the board layout; the connectors you can’t go without (Ethernet, USB, HDMI, AC) face three different directions, so the Pi is awkward to place if you want to run all cables to the back. Some minor annoyances are missing codecs, for example WMV, and a handful of inconveniences in OMXPlayer.

I have not yet tried using XMBC which is supposed to work well. Installing it on Raspbian does not seem to be straightforward; maybe I’ll try out Raspbmc on another card. Does anybody have experience with that?

Back in January when I bought my ereader, I had doubts whether I would be able to find enough quality content to read on it, given that I don’t buy DRM which still dominates the market. By now I have found enough sources; in fact, I am not quite able to read it all. Here is what I have been reading, in arbitrary order.

### Commercial

• Baen Ebooks has a free library.
• Smashwords has many free titles; it is common for authors to give away extended prologues or even first volumes of series.
• The Firefox plugin GrabMyBooks allows you to pack any web content as EPUB ebook. I regularly do so with CACM and Flash Fiction Online.
• There are some books floating around the open source community. For example, I discovered Pro Git recently.

### Stallman-free

• Project Gutenberg offers English classics that have entered the public domain in multiple formats.
• Gutenberg DE is the German version. Sadly, there are no downloads, but you can grab the text.
• Project Runeberg is the Swedish version of Project Gutenberg. They have download as plain text and HTML which is easy to convert.

Over these last year or so, EPUB has been entering more and more publishing heads. I am particularly excited about Tor’s move to drop DRM; huge amounts of science fiction and fantasy are viable in electronic form now. Tor has a nerdy audience (both readers and authors) so maybe they felt more pressure than other publishers; let’s just hope that their example catches on.

Once tools for creating EPUB books become better, it will be increasingly simple to offer ebook versions of your content, be it fiction book, scientific article or tech tutorial. In my opinion, the phase of early adopters is past: with the spread of EPUB, ebooks have left the confines of big publishing houses behind and become a medium of the crowd.

## Richard L. Sanders: The Phoenix Conspiracy

 Story: Characters: World: Humor: Action:

Calvin Cross is a successful and loyal officer in Intel Wing, the Empire’s intelligence organisation. He is so good that he has been given his own command, the stealth frigate Nighthawk, despite the fact that he is only a half-citizen and therefore stuck at a junior officer rank. His latest mission has been to track down rogue warship captain Raidan who used his position to destroy civilian alien freighters without provocation. Raidan is tried by a tribunal and found guilty, but his motives remain unknown. The prisoner escapes under suspicious circumstances—hijacking a dreadnought in the process—and Cross is again ordered to find him. Cross suspects foul play as several facts do not add up and decides to investigate the underlying situation rather than hunting down the fugitive. While he tries to keep up appearances his mysterious opponents act to stop Cross and his crew no matter what.

Phoenix Conspiracy has a solid, but not brilliant setup. The futuristic world is very similar to ours despite the fact that humanity travels across space; culture and technology appear unchanged for the most part. It works well enough for this kind of story as the reader feels comfortable from page one and can completely focus on the intriguing plot. The conspiracy is nicely set up and the characters are likeable yet complex enough to feel real, including heart-felt emotion and sometimes funny, sometimes nerve-wracking conflicts. Only the ending seemed a bit too hasty and shallow for my taste; but then, this is only part one of a series so I will give Sanders the benefit of doubt, assuming the rabbit hole is deeper than it seems. Phoenix Conspiracy managed to captivate me and I had a good time reading it. I certainly look forward to the sequels!

## Pretty Math on Wikipedia

In the days of MathJax, the math images on Wikipedia look inferior by a huge margin. The MathJax guys got us covered; they provide a userscript1 that dynamically injects MathJax into Wikipedia sites2. It may load a little longer, but I think this is worth the wait:

Without MathJax

With MathJax

1. Userscripts are pieces of Javascript your browser executes on top of any website. Firefox users use Greasemonkey, others see here.
2. Make sure to change the @include to http://*.wikipedia.org/wiki/* so the script works on all Wikipedias.

## Adrian Hall: Feng Shui Assassin

 Story: Characters: World: Humor: Action:

Harvey Barker is on a revenge trip in modern London, killing the people he holds responsible for his sister’s death. He is a professional assassin, but an unorthodox one: he kills using feng shui, manipulating chi and karma to kill his targets without anyone the wiser. But he is not careful enough this time. Detective Amanda Morgan can not shake the feeling that a couple of apparently tragic deaths are connected. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the group Harvey hunts down try to recover and strike back.

I needed to suspend a lot of disbelief regarding the manipulation of chi and karma. The concept seems confused at times, but experienced manga readers should have no problems accepting it. Hall’s prose is not perfect but good enough so it does not distract from his decent story. He builds a good amount of tension towards the end, finishing a very entertaining and thrilling book.