TomTom ONE 140

The TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition is the latest entry-level portable car GPS navigation unit from leading manufacturer TomTom. I’ve never owned a GPS navigation unit before but, having seen some of my friends’ GPS navigators in action, recently decided to take the plunge with the TomTom ONE 140 (using some of my K-Rudd stimulus money). Here are some of my thoughts…

TomTom ONE 140
TomTom ONE 140 (’Australia Ubd’ map colours)

Firstly, TomTom’s patented EasyPort mount is fantastic! The suction cup attaches securely to the windscreen with a 30° twist of the knob (and releases with the corresponding anticlockwise twist). The TomTom ONE then clips into the adjustable ring – simple! It’s quite a light and compact unit (especially when detached from the EasyPort mount) and I carry mine around in a Crumpler Thirsty Al (large) pouch.

The user interface on the device itself is user-friendly and intuitive. It’s displayed on an excellent 8.5 cm LCD touchscreen which offers a wide viewing angle and decent visibility in sunlight. Surprisingly, readability is unaffected by polarising sunglasses – I haven’t come across an LCD display with this property before.

Text-to-speech (TTS) is standard on the Australian model and in most other regions (it’s optional in North America, where the TTS model is designated ‘ONE 140•S’. Whilst undoubtedly useful (when roads are clearly signposted), the voice synthesiser struggles with uncommon and non-English names… although curiously, it pronounces ‘Parramatta’ quite well. It should be noted that TTS only works for ‘computer’ voices, of which there are only four English-speaking choices (female UK, male UK, female US, male US). I also recommend disabling ‘read aloud road numbers’, since the UK-oriented TTS will irritatingly spell out State Routes and Metroads, for example ‘S-T-A-T-E route thirty-one’ and ‘M-E-T-R-O-A-D four’ – disabling this feature results in the TTS announcing the actual road name or road sign instead.

I’ve been using it a fair bit over the past few weeks (covering a range of trips mainly in/between the city, inner west, and north west). The Australia map uses Whereis map data from Sensis, which has proven to be reliable so far. It generally does quite a reasonable job of plotting routes, although it does occasionally suggest impractical turns (e.g. unsignalled right turns onto a major arterial). The algorithm also tends to prefer major roads, in spite of the IQ Routes feature which is designed to calculate the fastest routes based on collated user data. Probably the best way to summarise this is that it might not necessarily get you somewhere the best possible way, but it does get you there.

GPS positioning is usually accurate to within 5–20 metres and the unit can acquire an accurate GPS position within 5–10 seconds when QuickGPSfix is up-to-date (signal acquisition can take over 30 seconds otherwise). Like other GPS navigation units, however, navigation can be patchy in certain situations: areas where tall buildings block line-of-sight reception from GPS satellites (e.g. Sydney CBD), on densely arranged and/or vertically stacked carriageways (e.g. Western Distributor Freeway), and where carriageways change direction during the morning/afternoon peak (e.g. Waringah Freeway).

USB connectivity allows the TomTom ONE to be managed using the TomTom HOME software package, including updates (Map Share, QuickGPSfix, etc), downloads, backups, etc. In addition to the Windows version, TomTom HOME is available as a universal binary for Mac OS X.

Overall, I find the TomTom ONE 140 IQ Routes edition to be a well-designed, user friendly, feature-rich entry level GPS navigation unit.

Battlestar Sonatica

The song All Along the Watchtower is a recurring theme in the final two seasons of Battlestar Galactica – my BSG-watching friends and I absolutely love the Bear McCreary arrangement of the song performed by Bt4 (Brendan McCreary) as heard in the season 3 finale Crossroads, part II. Bear McCreary is an award-winning composer who arranged the BSG score, and his blog (Bear’s Battlestar Galactica Blog) gives a fascinating insight into the creative and production processes for music in television/film.

Battlestar Sonatica sheet music
Battlestar Sonatica for Solo Piano, Yamaha LU-201C piano

Another one of my favourite pieces from BSG is the piano theme Battlestar Sonatica, first heard in the season 3 episode Torn. McCreary was asked by BSG producer Ron Moore to compose an ‘unsettlingly familiar’ classical piano piece to complement Baltar’s experiences aboard the Cylon Basestar. Battlestar Sonatica is a piano sonata in B flat minor inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 (’Moonlight’ Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2).

It turns out that the Battlestar Sonatica sheet music is available for purchase, and last week I finally received my copy in the mail. Now whilst mine isn’t autographed by McCreary, it’s one of the new edition saddle-stitched booklets on matte coated stock. The score corresponds exactly with the soundtrack and is thus a little technically difficult for a lapsed piano player like myself (I had difficulty sight reading it, in part because of the B flat minor scale), but in absolute terms is not a particularly difficult piece. Useless trivia: it’s the first piece I’ve played in a long time with double accidentals (in this case double flats).

Oh, and it turns out that I’d correctly inferred how McCreary came up with the coordinates for Earth in Daybreak, part II using a motif from All Along the Watchtower. Simple but effective!

MDF 797 stethoscope

Today I went stethoscope hunting at the Sydney University Medical Society Bookshop. Here’s some idea of the process a typical USyd medical student goes through when choosing a stethoscope…

  1. The Faculty of Medicine says that we don’t need cardiology-grade stethoscopes.
  2. The MedSoc Bookshop staff say that we don’t need cardiology-grade stethoscopes.
  3. The typical Med 1 student goes ahead and buys a cardiology-grade stethoscope.

I’d asked a few friends about their stethoscopes: HC (Med 3) and PC (Med 3) both use the Prestige Clinical Cardiology, whilst FT (Med 2) uses a Littmann Cardiology III. Whilst 3M Littmann is the most popular brand of stethoscope on the market, I wanted to test out the full range of stethoscopes available at the MedSoc Bookshop before making my purchase.

MDF 797 stethoscope
MDF 797 Classic Cardiology stethoscope

I eventually settled on the MDF 797 Classic Cardiology stethoscope because of it’s quality and because it’s great value for money – only AU$16.20 more expensive than the very popular Littmann Classic II SE (a conventional stethoscope) for MedSoc Bookshop members. I won’t repeat the product features/specifications of the MDF 797 here (they’re on the MDF website), but suffice to say the design and features are comparable to the Littmann Cardiology II. It’s made in the United States, comes with a 2 year warranty and MDF offers free lifetime replacement of eartips, diaphragms and rims. Incidentally, for $24.75 more the MDF 797DD ER Premier stethoscope adds a paediatric diaphragm with bell conversion (similar to the Littmann Cardiology III), however I decided that this wasn’t necessary in my case.

MDF 797 stethoscope showing bell
MDF 797 chestpiece bell and eartips close-up

I had the chance to compare the MDF 797 to the Prestige Clinical Cardiology and the Littmann Cardiology III, and found all three to be acoustically comparable with clear loud sound transmission, and noticeably superior to standard stethoscopes. If anything, as a novice I found the flat diaphragms on the MDF and Prestige stethoscopes to be easier to use than the tunable diaphragm on the Littmann stethoscopes but your mileage may vary. So anyone out there looking for a new stethoscope, if having a brand-name Littmann isn’t essential, I recommend giving the MDF 797 serious consideration.

Hm… now that I have one, where does my stethoscope go?

Update 27 January 2014

I’d been meaning to write an addendum for some time now. Firstly, the clear eartips on the MDF stethoscopes do go yellow after a few years of use and need to be replaced. The Sydney Uni MedSoc Bookshop closed down a few years ago, sadly, being unable to compete with online stores. I’ve since purchased a Littmann Cardiology III and use this in my daily practice – the main advantages being the paediatric tuneable diaphragm and lighter weight. I can also report that cardiology stethoscopes do indeed allow you to hear murmurs that are inaudible using non-cardiology steths – particularly important as some of these grade 1–2 murmurs have been associated with endocarditis.