Christmas goodies: Python and Bluetooth

This week I have a mixed bag of Christmas treats under my digital binary tree for you.

First up, a book to while away the cold winter evenings as you toast your tootsies in front of the vents on your overclocked PC: "Head First Python" (O’Reilly) by Paul Barry.

I last wrote about the Python language quite a while ago … let me look that up … wow, actually it was in 2003 … when I discussed Python and its pure Java implementation, Jython.

Over the intervening years both projects, which are open source and widely used in many enterprises (including Google, which has a particular fondness for Python), have gone from strength to strength with the latest release of Python being Version 3.2 beta 1 (which appeared Dec. 6) and the newest Jython release, Version 2.5.2 RC2 (turned loose on Oct. 24).

Now, learning any language can be a serious undertaking. To really grok a language you have to change how you think about expressing problems and "Head First Python" is designed to do just that.

"Head First Python" provides a pretty comprehensive tour through the Python language with a lighthearted approach ("lighthearted" always sounds lame but, in this case, it's a compliment) that includes lots of graphics, lots of asides and annotations to the text, lots of answers to "dumb questions" (questions that might be naively asked), and lots of exercises intended to give your brain a bigger picture of the subject matter. It's an unusual approach (O'Reilly has a series of books based on this premise) and one that manages to be educational without being boring.

Something I really like about "Head First Python" is that it provides a bigger picture than just learning the language: It also delves into Web and mobile application development in Python, and looks at testing, Web frameworks, and touches upon the advanced features of the language.

"Head First Python" is a great place to start learning Python but be warned, even its 400+ pages only gets you so far; Python is an enormous topic. That said; this is one of the best places to start your Python education.

So what else could go under my digital tree? Well, in the delightful ear bauble department I have two Bluetooth headsets that are worth considering for your nearest and dearest … or yourself if you think you've been particularly good this year.

The first of these is the Jabra Stone2. I tested the first version of this line, the Jabra STONE, and liked it a lot, and the STONE2 appears to be a worthy successor.

The STONE2 (about $53) is impressive because, like its predecessor, this device has one of the most elegant headset designs I've seen so far – it looks more like a piece of jewelry.

The C-shaped form and its very low weight of O.2 ounces allows it to stay firmly on your ear, but what's really clever is that the earpiece fits into an ovoid base that is also a backup battery. If the earpiece runs out of juice you just pop it into the base to recharge.

The downside of the design? It only fits on a right ear! I don't know what percentage of the population is "left-eared" but I know I'm in that group and using my right ear just doesn't work for me. I'd also suspect that people with very large or very small ears might find the one-size-fits-all design uncomfortable.

Reviewing the general consensus on the STONE2's performance, other buyers seem to rate it as good though many find its controls hard to use. Once I've had a chance to fully test the Stone2 I'll give you an update.

My second headset is the Motorola Oasis, an unusual design that, at first blush, looks kind of odd; rather like a musical "whole note" symbol with a huge inflated tail that houses the battery and all of the electronics.

What's surprising is this headset is amazingly comfortable! It balances neatly over your ear and the geometry of the Oasis makes it hard to accidentally dislodge. Even better, it can be worn for a long time without discomfort.

The device is also "stowable": The microphone boom can be rotated back towards the "tail" making the whole device much smaller.

The Oasis provides voice prompts for both battery and connection status as well as announcing which phone is ringing if you've paired it with more than one handset (it can also handle calls on two handsets at the same time).

The Oasis has a great battery life -- 6 hours talk time and seven days on standby -- but suffers from only moderately good noise cancellation and sound quality. Even so, priced around $73, the Oasis gets a rating of 4 out of 5.

Of these two headsets I would reach for the Oasis for, say, a long drive. But of all the headsets I've looked at over the years I still prefer the Aliph Jawbone Icon that I reviewed in February because it has the best noise cancellation I've found so far. If there's a Bluetooth headset you think is better, let me know …

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This story, "Christmas goodies: Python and Bluetooth" was originally published by Network World.

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