Monday, June 27, 2011

Synergy and Pentagogue

I am enthralled with a piece of software that I have newly discovered. It is available for the Pandora as well as several platforms and architectures, and it is open source. It's called Synergy.

I could go into huge detail about it, but I will condense it because I don't feel like typing a lot this evening, and I'm sure you're not interested in reading tonnes about it either. 

At the most basic level, Synergy is essentially a software KVM switch without the V. That is, it allows you to share one keyboard and one mouse across several desktops. This is absolutely the best "utility" software I have found for the Pandora.

Use case: I am coding a game for the Pandora called Pentagogue. It's not much, and I'll get into detail about it later, but I digress. I had the Pandora next to my laptop, typing on the laptop's keyboard, running my IM/chat client. Normally I would be entirely distracted by the chat client, but with kaede sitting next to asuka I didn't lose any real-estate on my main screen for my project. As a result, I've already gotten through the first part of an SDL tutorial and most of the way through my graphics design for the project.

The PND is up on, and I will be seeking permission to upload it to the unofficial-but-largely-preferred soon.

Now, most of my work today was done on asuka. I'd like to show a bit of a mock-up of the upcoming abstract strategy game Pentagogue from Vulpisoft Technologies (name coming this decade to a household near you.... maybe not). The game mechanics are based upon the ruleset of the Swedish-born game Pentago. The idea is that you play tic-tac-toe with lines of 5 on a 6x6 board. The twist is that after each play, you pick one of the four 3x3 mini-boards which make up the 6x6 board and turn it ninety degrees either clockwise or anti-clockwise. 

Without further ado, here is a mockup of the visuals you'll see:

This, of course, is not the absolutely final design, but it's pretty close. I'm going for a minimalistic yet beautiful design. Please let me know what you think.

Just so you know, I tentatively plan to release this game's code under the terms of the GPL; I plan to release its artwork under a non-restrictive but commercially-prohibitive license like CC BY-NC.

The above "mockup" is released under the terms of the CC BY-NC-ND license.

Monday, June 20, 2011

On my two loves; one new, one deeper

It's been a while since my last post. The reason for this is that I have been spending the last week with AquaAnalogueGirlfriend. We don't get to see each other often during the summer, as we are separated by 5 hours of earthborne travel. I apologise for waiting so long between posts, but being the deeper of the two eponymous loves covered in this post, she comes first; my time with her is limited, and must be savoured (like good wine) and greedily absorbed (like good potato crisps) at the same time.

During the past week, I've given my girlfriend a few chances to experience my newest love: the Pandora. She's particularly taken to playing PandoraPanic!. I showed her Super Geometry Dust (which I personally adore), but she seemed more intent upon kicking me off my own high-score list on the former. 

My favourite software for the Pandora currently has to be SNES9x4P. I'm re-playing all of my old favourites as well as playing a few games for the first time, most notably EarthBound. I'll tell you, EarthBound was really, really ahead of its time.

On to the Pandora itself. Kaede is certainly proving to be a bit temperamental, but I like that in a device. I've noticed a small problem with the charging; sometimes she'll freeze in the middle of it, stopping the charging, and one time I had to remove the battery. Still, it's nothing a simple action couldn't fix.

One thing I really want to see in the next device from OpenPandora Ltd is keyboard backlighting. I've got a USB snake light that I'm using currently, but I can tell it's going to get annoying. Aside from providing a practical necessity, I think the Pandora would look that much more badass with translucent orange letters and translucent blue "Fn" labels. Perhaps I'll get another Pandora in the future and modify it to have key lighting.

That's all for now. I'll be updating more often from now on.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's finally here!!!!

[Note: I would have written this sooner, but I was too busy playing with my Pandora. Apologies to my lack of self-discipline, but when I first held Kaede in my hands THE UNIVERSE STOPPED OKAY]

Monday morning, I woke up at 7:00 AM and immediately checked my UPS tracking page.  My Pandora was out for delivery. I waited for the truck for the next four hours. Finally, through my window, I caught a glimpse of the UPS guy walking up my driveway. I figured I'd be there waiting to sign, so I ran toward the door. When I got there, he was already back in his truck on the street. No signature, no anything. I didn't know the UPS was hiring ninjas now. Hands waving in desperation at the man in the vehicle, I shouted like a maniac the lines I'd rehearsed: "Thank you! I've been waiting for this package for one and a half years!" He waved at me and drove off, mid-sentence. I never even got to know his name.

Thank you, UPS Ninja... wherever you are.

After the rather pathetically unceremonious delivery, I took the package inside and prepared to make a video with my sister's camera. I will not torture you with the results. You've seen tonnes of unboxing videos; go watch one of those.

After unboxing it, I attempted to take the battery cover off. I wasn't having too much success, so I decided not to break it and to snap it back on instead. When I turned it over, I realised to my horror that it had turned itself on-- without being plugged in first! I had already strayed from the One True Path. I let out a few expletives, quickly fumbled the charger into the wall and gently slid it into the power port on the back of the Pandora.

I had a plan. I was going to make a few videos, make a blog post, and be active on the forums all day. Upon opening Pandora's box, the plan simply dissolved into a frenzy of Pandora usage. I don't even remember which game I played first. All I know is that I tried every single thing I had put on my SD card, about three times each at minimum, for about two minutes at a time. I had gone insane.

I am still insane. It is so hard to pull myself away to type this post-- yes, I could have typed it on the Pandora, but it needs to charge sometime, right? So, without further ado, I give you... my review of the OpenPandora on four major criteria: appearance, hardware, software, and overall BLOODY BRILLIANCE.


I find the Pandora absolutely visually stunning. I never had an early unit, but from what I saw in pictures then, and what I see now in my hands, the build quality has improved hundredfold. It looks-- there's no other way to put it-- fucking professional. The professional-looking logo on the top drove my sister to ask, "Oh-- that must be made by Nintendo!". "No!", I hissed, seething. "Don't you dare insult it like that.".

The case is sleek beyond belief. The matte black finish gives it an appealing, covert vibe... all the while making it impossible to muck the thing up with fingerprints. I truly appreciate this, as I have very, very sweaty hands. It is so nice to know that my Pandora will stay beautiful. I have a glossy black finish on my laptop, and I remember actually wearing gloves for a time before I gave up trying to keep it pretty.

I just love the boxy yet rounded look of the case. It's not a hugely noticeable thing, but I love the way the LED bars on each side taper off toward their outer edges. It just makes it look that much cooler.

The gaming controls have alluring definition. I love the way the nubs and the three special buttons (alt, ctrl, meta/"pandora") all lie within a recessed, outlined oval. The circular edge of the nubs looks really cool, and the topography of the nubs is a nice touch.

The keyboard is unique. Instead of the keys being all together, there's a noticeable gap between them, and I think it's awesome. It's reminiscent of a couple of the older computers I've used, back when the keyboard was part of the unit itself. The keys are a beautiful, reflective black. The combination of the shiny keys with the matte black case and controls just really jumps out and says, "Hey! Look at me! I'm fucking beautiful.".

Honestly, the entire Pandora has a neo-retro-covert feel about it that I am really, absolutely digging. You know there's some real genius-level work in the design department when the device looks as beautiful on the shelf as it does in your hand. Seriously. If I could resist picking it up whenever I saw it (and if I had even close to that kind of money) I would totally consider ordering an extra unit just for a display piece.


The Pandora's hardware is absolutely brilliant. On the outside alone: Two SD slots. Two USB ports. An actual, normal, functioning hardware volume wheel, the likes of which I haven't seen since my Game Boy Color (It's "Colour!" Damn it, Nintendo!). A normal-sized headphone jack. And because all this is not enough, an external data connector which, with the right cable, will someday unleash the capability of visual output, audio input, and not one but two UART serial connections.

I'd like to mostly focus on the gaming controls and the touchscreen. The former are honestly the best I've ever used, hands down. The nubs are brilliant-- the time, money, and effort put in over the many, many months have paid off thrice over with these. I love having the traditional "diamond" of buttons on the right, the D-pad on the left, and the shoulder buttons. The only thing truly missing is the L2/R2 buttons. The Pandora isn't a half-assed imitation. The Pandora is serious business, guys. That is, as serious and businesslike as a gaming computer can possibly be. Wait, that made it sound not fun-- strike the preceding two sentences, printer.

I have not had any of the seemingly common problems with any of the physical controls. For instance, many people exhibited troubles with the shoulder buttons. Mine are perfectly operational; for each one there exist binary, mutually exclusive on/off states, separated by a satisfying audible "click".

I could ramble on all day about every single aspect of the controls, but aside from the nubs,  the Pandora's real champion is the D-Pad. Oh my god, you guys-- this D-Pad. I'm serious. Like the shoulder buttons, there's a click, but you don't hear it; you feel it. Unlike some other D-Pads we've known in the past, with the Pandora's it's easy both to press it and to know it's been pressed. Pushing it takes absolutely minimum effort, yet there is a strictly defined friction point where you know without a doubt that the hit has registered.

Unfortunately, I can't say these sorts of amazing things about the touchscreen. Honestly, you can't get away with putting a device on the market these days if at least fifty per-cent of the screens do not respond to touch, and although the Pandora has a touchscreen, quite honestly it's crap. Exempli gratia: hits register about forty-five per-cent of the time, and when dragging the stylus around on the screen, the cursor pathetically jumps along after it instead of following it smoothly. Using a drawing program, I couldn't even sign my name-- it was worse than one of those credit card machines at the supermarket which they haven't replaced in years. In the Pandora's defence though, it could possibly be a driver issue, at least partially... or it could be a problem with my individual unit. It's not a huge issue for me either, because I use the nubs for mouse input. I nearly shed tears of joy when I realised that my beloved IBM/Lenovo-style clitoral interface had returned, albeit less clitoral-looking and above the keyboard rather than in the middle of it. I hate touchpads; they need to die and split Hell wide open.

On the subject of wireless communications: I haven't tried Bluetooth other than turning it on, but I have wireless on constantly and it works smashingly. I can use my three major protocols (http, https, and ssh), without trouble, and honestly that is all I care about. The speed could and should improve as better drivers are written.

Anything I haven't mentioned, assume it works so well that I didn't even think to notice it. For instance, overclocking has been perfect up to 800MHz which is just fine for me. The SD slots, the speakers, the hinge, the LCD, the power switch, the volume wheel, the USB ports and the audio jack... they all work perfectly.

Overall, the Pandora is an absolutely amazing device hardware-wise. The gaming controls are spot-on, I haven't had any trouble whatsoever with any of the tactile input.  If I were a touchscreen gaming junkie, I would be disappointed, but it would also serve me right for not leaving that sort of junk-food gaming to sissy-poofta devices like the iPhone.


The Pandora needs much less improvement in this department than is implied by the community; for the most part the operating system is practically seamless-- I have only had a couple problems with the default firmware (the default browser sucks and the PND-mounting script is broken). It's a hacker's device anyway, not a child's plaything, so you can't expect it to act perfectly all the time.

The Pandora's firmware is excellent. The thing that needs work is the community-provided packages or rather, the packaging system used to distribute them. The entire thing needs an overhaul. I'm not the PND format's biggest fan. Honestly, the idea of a portable, mountable filesystem for every single app is cute and quirky, but it just doesn't work. For instance, if I install a program, I expect that program to show up in a context menu for a file type it's associated with. Nope. Doesn't happen. I can't even run the apps from the terminal!!! I've gotten so irritated with the PND system already that I've installed the OS to an SD card and will probably never touch the NAND again. In my opinion, the entire NAND idea should have been scrapped and replaced with an accessible but hidden microSD card. That way, upgrades would be easy, we wouldn't have to muck around with the NAND (don't use it! It might break!), and we could have done completely without PNDs and the Great Civil Repository War and had a decent package management system with central and community-driven repositories like any other Linux distro.

Here's an idea: why not have the firmware on the NAND, and use an overlay filesystem on the primary SD card for any reads/writes? Then we could use a normal packaging system. Actually, scratch that. The NAND is what, 512 MB? Just do what I do and run the OS from an SD card.


Here and fully present. I love this device and everything about it. Even with a couple of respectably-sized flaws it manages to defeat every single other device I've ever had, and sail back with flying colours on every mast. There is no such thing as perfection, but the Pandora is as close as it gets.

My suggestions for the betterment of the Pandora Mk.II:

  • Better touchscreen or touchscreen drivers
  • L2/R2 buttons and clickable nubs
  • sed "s/NAND/microSD/g" (man sed) *and/or-at-least*
  • sed "s/PND/APT+UnionFS/g"
  • a USB-A port that works with non-HighSpeed devices without a hub/adapter 
  • 3G/4G/xG in-built mobile connectivity
What I absolutely positively love about the Pandora:
  • openness and freedom; tiny-ass Linux box wherever... goddamn!
  • community
  • BATTERY LIFE... holy Hell.
  • two SD slots
  • analogue nubs
  • volume wheel 
  • no silkscreening (geek pr0n at its finest)
  • no rooting, unlocking and/or jailbreaking necessary to sit on the bus and play Kirby's Dream Course with my girlfriend like a boss
  • EVERYTHING ELSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks so much to the OpenPandora Ltd. team and the developers (and fellow members of the community) for making this UNIVERSE-STOPPINGLY-GOOD device available to me! I may not have my flying car; I may not have my anti-gravity belt... but I have my Pandora, and it is therefore OFFICIALLY THE FUTURE NOW.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kaede gets her Green Card

According to my tracking information, my Pandora is now in the United States of America-- Philadelphia, PA, to be exact, which is only a few hours away. It's listed as last undergoing an "import scan", which I would like to believe means that she's cleared customs. I almost want to steal a car and go there. No... I do want to. I just know I can't. ARRGH!

I've been spending my time filling up my SD card with various junk. I acquired Final Fantasy VII and the PSX BIOS at a reasonable price. I acquired a whole bunch of PNDs at a legally reasonable price. I'm currently looking for an easy way to organise and shrink my collection of NES and SNES roms; I'm thinking of coding a script that goes through all the archives and picks out only the US versions.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I GOT MY E-MAIL FROM UPS TODAY with a TRACKING NUMBER and a DELIVERY DATE! I'm going to have my Pandora on MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111one.

I'm so excited! I'm not going to babble on too long about it, because I have to load up my SD cards. More on that I suppose...

Last night I decided I would go out and buy two SD cards I couldn't afford. They turned out to be class 4 as well, which I guess will have to do. I'm wondering what to put on them. So far I know I want to try the SNES emulation, maybe a little NES and PlayStation. I'm not really into disappointment so I'm not even going to try N64.

What I really want are some apps. The gaming side of the Pandora was what set the hook, but its capabilities as a portable, hackable, fully-fledged Linux box is what really reeled me in over the past year. I guess I'll search through the fourteen different file archives and look for which apps look interesting to me.

I think I'll also put a few episodes of my favourite anime (plural) on one of the cards. I want to see how good the Pandora is at video playback. I can only just imagine myself and my girlfriend curled up with the Pandora, watching anime together. It is going to be so wonderful.

My initial intentions as of this post are as follows, in no direct order:

  • play SNES
  • play Super Geometry Dust (seen some pretty sick reviews on that)
  • watch anime
  • post in the forums
  • muck about in the terminal
  • compile something; anything-- it's kinda like breaking the bottle of champagne on a maiden voyage
  • post on this blog
  • set it up with a DNS hostname
  • try random apps
  • hug it creepily for a few minutes at a time
  • ssh into my VPS and check my e-mail
  • play a touchscreen game
  • draw using the touchscreen
The particular games I intend to play on the Pandora first include but are not limited to the following:

  • SNES games from my childhood
    • F-ZERO
    • Super Mario 1, 2, 3, Lost Levels and World
    • U.N. Squadron <-- That's a big one
    • Super Earth Defense Force
    • HAL'S Hole In One Golf
  • SNES games I'd never got around to playing
    • too many to list
  • Playstation (if these games work, not sure yet)
    • Final Fantasy VII (Damn everyone and their spoilers!)
    • wipEout 
    • Metal Gear Solid
  • Super Geometry Dust

Anyone with any suggestions for games, once I make this blog known, is quite welcome to throw them in the comments! 

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Awaiting Kaede

    I received notice today that my Pandora will be shipped tomorrow. I'm so excited! I can't believe it.

    My parents decided to surprise me with a Premium upgrade after I had a rather surprisingly good quarter at school. Well, they couldn't really do exactly that; they surprised me with the money and then told me what the money was for. I received an e-mail from OpenPandora sales today informing me that my Pandora will be shipped tomorrow.

    I started this blog to put my thoughts into words; I have decided that I will blog at least once a week for at least the first year with my Pandora; the first week or so I will probably blog every day as my "rolling review" of the Pandora; we'll see.

    This post is named "Awaiting Kaede" because Kaede is going to be the name of my Pandora. I name all of my computers after female anime characters; my Pandora will be named after Kaede from the anime Shuffle! which I have recently begun watching with my girlfriend.

    Until my Pandora arrives, I'm going to blog as often as I can to get the feelings out. I am an incredibly impatient person, so I probably won't reveal it to the public until the unboxing post lest I annoy my potential readers.