Great Kindle Update

It’s no secret to anybody that knows me that I read, a lot. To this end I jumped on board the Amazon Kindle shortly after the release of the original unit. Sadly due to a slight handling problem with certain entities at airport security who’s organization’s initials happen to contain a T, S, and A my original Kindle has a non-functional screen.

So I overnighted a new Kindle 2. After first I was rather disappointed about having to do so since there was never really any feature on the Kindle 2 that justified the upgrade in my book. Well that all changed with the latest software update released for the Kindle 2 (both GSM and CDMA versions) and Kindle DX.

Although the Kindle DX included native PDF support from day one the other models lacked this feature. This update brings native PDF support to the line (except the original unit). The Kindle has always had the option of reading converted PDF files but I’ve not had good luck with conversions of any document that was even remotely complex.

But reading a PDF on such a small device is rather impossible unless you could change the screen orientation to landscape mode. Guess what the new software update adds that feature as well.

I’ve been running the update for a week now and feel I can give a good review of it. The native PDF support is great. So long as you read the PDFs in landscape mode that is. In portrait orientation the PDFs are scaled to the screen making everything too small to actually read. I’m not surprised about that nor do I think it’s a problem. I’ve read several complex PDF files including the IEEE specification for 802.3at and they render perfectly on the Kindle. Loading PDFs doesn’t take dreadfully long and switching pages is no slower than native Kindle files. Overall it’s a great addition.

The update was also supposed to increase the battery life when wireless is enabled. I only turn the wireless on long enough to purchase and download new books so I don’t know what difference this update made in that realm.

But this update, in my opinion, brings the Kindle from a 1.0 device to a device ready for the mainstream. Booyah.

So Much For the Barnes and Nobel Nook Lending Feature

In the post I made previewing the Barnes and Nobel Nook eReader device I mentioned the lending feature. Well it appears the lending feature is completely gimped.

Well it appears each title you have can only be loaned out once and only for 14 days. Note that the wording seems to imply you can loan a title once period, not once per person. The other strike against this feature is a book can only be loaned out if the published allows this behavior. I can officially strike that feature off as something cool.

Barnes and Nobel Nook

It’s no secret to those who know me that I read a lot. I also have a habit of reading several books at the same time. According to my girlfriend that’s messed up but alas I usually have several topics I’m interested in at the same time and depending on the interest that’s most peaked at the time I’ll read a different book. Due to this I’ve been following the e-book reader market.

I bought an Amazon Kindle about a year and a half ago and have absolutely loved it. It’s nice being able to carry my entire library with me wherever I go. It’s also convenient since I don’t have to either drive to a book store to purchase a book or order it online and wait for the title to be delivered. Before getting my Kindle I spent a lot of time in Barnes and Nobel carousing books. Now I stop in there maybe once every couple of months to browse their non-fiction titles since the Kindle store has a pretty horrible selection in that department.

Well Barnes and Nobel yesterday (or maybe the day before I forgot) announced their entry into the e-book reader market, the Nook. Of course this requires a comparison of the two products.

The Nook stands out from the Kindle in a few areas. The first, and most obvious, is the LCD touch screen located below the ePaper display. This is where you do all your navigating and controls. More on that in a bit. The second difference is the Nook uses AT&T’s 3G network instead of Sprint’s. But to alleviate the pains of using AT&T’s network (seriously their network has less coverage than most bikinis) the Nook also includes Wi-Fi. Two other features the Nook has that the latest Kindle doesn’t (although the previous model did) is a replaceable battery and a memory card slot.

I guess I’m going to cover my thoughts on the differences. First I want to talk about the LCD touch screen being touted as the chief wham-bam feature of the Nook. I don’t like it. Yup you heard me right I don’t like it. My reasoning is three fold. First LCD screens suck power every second they are one. Displays using ePaper technology only use power while they are actively switching pages meaning while you are reading a page no power is being used by the display. That means the LCD screen on the Nook will drop the battery life and long battery life is one of my favorite features of e-book readers.

The second issue I have with the LCD is viewing it outside. See ePaper displays work very well in direct sunlight so you can comfortably use the devices outside. LCDs on the other hand become very difficult to read in direct sunlight so the Nook has a contrast here. The main reader works best with a lot of light while the navigation screen works best without direct light hitting it. This seems like a duality in usefulness to me.

The third issue I have with the LCD screen is the fact LCD screens are backlit. This means the LCD screen is going to be much brighter than the ePaper display that you actually read from. The problem is the human eye is drawn more towards bright items then items having no source of light. Unless there is a way to easily kill the backlight on the LCD while reading a book I would find this to be quite an annoyance after some time. Again this is coming from a person who can plop down and read for a couple hours straight, I doubt it would be any sort of issue if you only read a few minutes at a time (but if that’s you why waste your money on an e-book reader?).

I hate AT&T’s network. You don’t hear this often but I love being on Sprint’s network. Why? Because I get data coverage almost everywhere and phone coverage in even more places. I can get high speed data in a podunk little town like Winona, Minnesota and basic data in Caledonia, MN (where AT&T coverage is practically non-existant). When my friends on AT&T have coverage issues I have three or four bars normally. Hell my phone works in my apartments garage. So needless to say I really like being able to purchase books on my Kindle from practically anywhere without the need for Wi-Fi. But having the option of Wi-Fi for times when data service coverage is unavailable is a great idea which I highly approve of.

With that said there are some features of the Nook I really like. There is a method of loaning books to friends which the Kindle completely lacks. Honestly I don’t really lend books to friends but it would be nice to have the option should the situation arise. The truth of the matter though is we need to eliminate DRM all together. Of course I believe it will take the publishing industry many years to figure this out. Hell look how long it took the music industry until they started allowing DRM free MP3s to be sold and later songs sold on the iTunes music store.

The removable battery is a huge plus in my book. I still have the first generation Kindle and hence a removable battery. But alas I’m not one to phase our my devices overly often unless a new device has new features that can justify an upgrade to me. I do run into battery failure issues with my devices and do desire a method to replace the battery myself when that occurs. This is one of the issues I have with the iPhone and iPod series of products. With that said I can’t imagine a situation where I’d need to replace a battery in an ePaper device due to depleting the battery through use. Seriously I can go a couple weeks with my Kindle without needing to recharge it so long as I keep the wireless switched off.

Barnes and Nobel is claiming 1,000,000 e-books when their store goes live. Amazon’s Kindle store currently proclaims 350,000 titles. Depending on what titles Barnes and Nobel is claiming (for instance they mention free e-books which are probably out of copyright titles which means I can also get them free on my Kindle) this could be a huge boon. I know the Kindle store has some odd gaps in their titles (Jurassic Park still isn’t available). If Barnes and Nobel can get a larger selection of titles that would jump them ahead pretty far.

The Nook does support native PDFs by the looks of it. Many papers I read are in PDF format and I can get them on my Kindle after a dance involving a free e-mail address that sends the PDF to Amazon to convert it. The Kindle DX natively supports PDFs but it’s also a huge honking device compared to my paperback sized Kindle. The more natively formatted formats supported on a device the better in my opinion.

I’ll hold my final judgement until the Nook is actually released but I really don’t see any major advantage it has over the Kindle and the LCD is a huge disadvantage on a dedicated reading device in my opinion. But one fact is certainly true competition is good and the Nook will give some heavy competition to the Kindle.

Barnes and Nobel are also claiming special in-store features. This is really meaningless to me since one of the advantages, to me, of an e-book reader is not having to go to a store to gain any features. But again I highly doubt any main feature of the Nook will depend on going into a Barnes and Nobel store to use it.

Brief History of the Swiss Army Knife

The BBC has a nice article covering the history of the Swiss army knife…

I’m one of those people who carries a Swiss army knife on his person every day. Mine has several gadgets that I use almost every day including a small LED pen light. For every slot, screw, and hole there is a tool on my knife to work with it. I honestly would have a hard time getting through the day without it.

Unibody MacBook Pro 15″ Review

A month or two ago (I’m bad with time estimates) I finally broke down and decided I needed a new laptop. For perspective my old laptop is a PowerBook G4 with a 15″ screen. It held out but after four years it has finally become too slow for daily use. For instance it can not reliably run YouTube movies and Skype at the same time. On top of this Apple and will not support the PowerPC processor with the next Mac OS version by the looks of it.

Being a UNIX addict I looked at two options. The first was a cheap netbook which I’d put Linux on and the second was another Mac. I ended up getting a Mac since my last one ran so well and netbooks doesn’t have the power to run virtual machines which I use daily at work. I settled on the cheapest unibody MacBook Pro with a 15″ screen. I didn’t find the slight increase in processor speed not a higher end graphics card which I’ll never use on a laptop worth the extra money and honestly I find 15″ to be the perfect balance between portability and screen real estate.

First off I’ll zip through the feature list. It’s pretty must the same features you find on most laptops these days. It has build in 802.11n draft WiFi, Bluetooth, CD/DVD RW (it supports every format of DVD RW I’m aware of),two USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire 800 port, 1 gigabit Ethernet port, an audio in jack, and audio out jack, webcam, microphone, and SD card slot, and finally a connector for an external monitor. The laptop itself is made of aluminium and is very thin and lights for a 15″ laptop.

The first thing I want to note is the battery. The battery is integrated so you can’t easily pull it out and swap in another battery when it’s out of juice. This may be a huge problem for many people and honestly I thought it would be one for me. But with the screen a full brightness while using WiFi I can easily get five and a half hours out of the battery so long as I’m not running a virtual machine. This satisfies my power requirements but may not satisfy those who have to be on a ten hour flight without access to one board airplane power. I will note replacing the battery itself is easy, all you have to do is pull off the back plate (just a series of Philips head screws) and it’s right at the trackpad end of the body. Overall I’m amazed at the battery life this thing gets since I’ve not had a laptop yet that could manage five hours with the screen brightness all the way down and WiFi disabled.

The next thing to note is the screen, it’s gorgeous. The color definition is great and the LED back lighting makes the image on the screen appear as if it’s painted on. With that said the screen is also incredibly glossy. Although this makes the picture look nicer it also reflects everything behind it. You can see yourself if the screen image is dark and any light source will glare on the screen. Although I find this to be a disadvantage normally I haven’t really had an issue with it. This could be due to the fact I’ve had a glossy screen laptop in the past and learned to angle the screen in such a way that any light sources behind me aren’t reflecting off of the screen. Honestly though if the screen image consists mostly of lighter colors (blues and white let’s say) you won’t notice the reflection.

Then there is the keyboard. It uses chiclet style keys. Apple has been transitioning to this type of keyboard since the MacBook was first introduced. The MacBook pros were the last series to have a regular keyboard until the unibody ones were released. Personally I haven’t no issues typing on either setup so I haven’t noticed any problem. The keys are also back lit so when you’re in a dark area the letters on the keys will glow a soft blue. I had this feature on my previous two PowerBooks and absolutely love it. Although I touch type and therefore never look at the keys the back lit keys are just cool looking.

Just under the keyboard is the trackpad. I know there usually isn’t much to say about trackpads but the one on the new MacBook Pros is fairly unique. First of all it’s made of etched glass instead of plastic. The idea here is that is won’t wear down (get shiny) like plastic trackpads eventually do. Until I’ve had the laptop for a year I’ll not notice this though. I do notice the trackpad feels smoother under my finger and it’s easier to do really minute movements with it. The second thing to note about the trackpad is that is doesn’t have a button at the bottom of it. Instead the entire trackpad presses down as a button. This allows for using gestures which the new MacBook Pros make heavy use of. For instance tapping on the trackpad works as a regular left click while tapping on the trackpad with two fingers works as a right click. Moving two fingers up, down, left, or right works as a scroll wheel would. Swiping with three fingers navigates though program specific objects (documents, pictures, files, etc.). Swiping up with four fingers reveals the desktop and swiping down with four fingers shows all the windows open on the current desktop. Finally you can zoom in and out using a pinch motion with two fingers. These features do speed up navigation quite a bit.

One last thing I’ll cover on the generic features list is the external monitor port. The new MacBook Pros use a mini DisplayPort connector instead of regular DVI or VGA connectors. This means if you want to hook up to any monitor besides Apple’s current 24″ Cinema Display you’ll need to get an adapter. I will warn you the mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter doesn’t have connectors for the four pins by the “blade” nor a connector for the vertical “blade” pin (bear with me I’m trying to use a little technical jargon as possible). So make sure to check your DVI connector before picking up Apple’s official adapter.

This laptop has plenty of processing power for my needs. It comes equipped with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. This is roughly equivalent to my desktop which has two 2.66 GHz dual core Xeon Woodcrest processors. This translates to plenty of speed for running multiple virtual machines and anything else you would normally want to do with a laptop. It also comes with 4GB of RAM which is on the low end side for my uses but it can be upgraded to 8GB (Note never buy official Apple RAM. Always get the bare minimum Apple sells and upgrade the RAM using any decent and cheaper RAM such as Kingston or Crucial. You’ll get all the advantages with half the cost). I’ll probably upgrade the RAM sometime down the road.

I did upgrade the hard drive in this thing already. It came with a 5400 RPM 250GB drive so I went with a Western Digital 7200 RPM 320 GB drive. It’s faster and has more space. Likewise upgrading the drive yourself saves you money over ordering a larger and faster drive from Apple (I got my drive for $80.00 on Newegg while Apple wanted $100.00 for the upgrade). The drive still seems slow compared to my four drive RAID on my desktop but it gets the job done. Do note if you want to lay down some serious coinage you can put in a solid state drive which I hear greatly speeds up the drive read and write times.

I’m not going to review Mac OS since other people have done that to death. Needless to say everything runs acceptably fast (no computer is “fast enough” in my book) for what I need. I can run two virtual machines simultaneously without much issue. The only reason I can’t run three is because the hard drive begins to choke under all the read and write accesses. Aperture works great without any real noticeable slow down as well. Overall I love this machine so far and look forward to four more years on it (hopefully).

ATMs that Defend Themselves

This is certainly a unique story I found on Bruce Scheier’s blog…

In South Africa they are testing ATMs that squirt pepper spray into the face of anybody deemed to be tampering with the card slot…

The technology uses cameras to detect people tampering with the card slots. Another machine then ejects pepper spray to stun the culprit while police response teams race to the scene.

Here is the issue though image recognition isn’t 100%. In fact it’s very spotty at best. Hence I’m guessing there will be a lot of false positives here. Either that or the machines will be set towards the safe side and not actually spray the people that are tampering with the ATM.

Either way this sounds like an interesting idea with a flawed implementation.


Why You Don’t Rely on Competitor Products

One of Palm’s biggest advertised features of it’s new Pre phone was the ability to synchronize with Apple’s iTunes. The problem is the Pre directly competes with the iPhone so Palm was depending on their competitor’s product to claim a feature. Well Apple just released an update to squash the Pre’s ability to sync with iTunes…;jsessionid=CZ3GQEH0

I like Palm and many of their products but when they claimed the Pre synced with iTunes I knew it was not only a stupid thing to waste time accomplishing but also something that wouldn’t last long. Many people in the technology industry are now wondering if Palm will sue Apple based on anti-competitive practices. In my opinion iTunes is Apple’s property and they should be able to do whatever they damned well please with it.

The bottom line is Palm seriously fucked up when they depended on somebody who is in direct competition with them. This would be akin to America depending on the Middle East for oil, oh wait.

AT&T. Because You Suck and We Hate You

It’s no small secret that the new iPhone was announced today. And taking a title from the famous “HK. Because You Suck and We Hate You” I present for your reading pleasure (unless you have an iPhone and are on AT&T) AT&T. Because You Suck and We Hate You.

First off let’s talk features. The new iPhone OS 3.0 will have two new features. These are tethering and multimedia messaging (MMS).

Tethering for those who don’t know is when you connect your phone to your computer and use the data plan on the phone as a network connection on your computer. I use it all the time on my Palm Treo 755p when I’m out and about (mostly because I don’t trust any network I don’t fully control but at least with being consistent and using Sprint’s I have a single point of attack instead of any random network). Well iPhone OS 3.0 now has this feature, and anybody with an iPhone can use it. Well that’s of course unless you’re in the United States and most probably on AT&T’s network…

Now from the same article let’s talk MMS. It’s more or less a stupid feature in my book. Think of it as enhanced text messaging. Instead of just text MMS allows you to send small pictures and video through your phone. Well iPhone OS 3.0 finally has this feature but alas if you are on AT&T it will be a while until you get it. But what’s a little wait huh? It’s not like this is a feature that’s been on every phone on the planet since the ’90’s, oh wait it is.

Finally AT&T being the bastions of super dickery they are have announced pricing…

With most cellular phone carriers if you buy a phone you get a discount at the cost of having to sign a two year contract. Once this contract is up you often are offered a discount on a new phone for signing another two year contract. If you don’t opt for this then you are free to go from month to month with the ability to quit your business deal with your carrier at any time.

AT&T has decided that if you are not currently eligible for a new phone you will have to pay full price. Nothing unusual about that really, I paid full price for my current Palm Treo 755p. The difference is when I pay the full unsubsidized price with Sprint I don’t have to sign a new two year agreement. Well even though people may have to pay full price for a new iPhone they will also get the pleasure of being locked into a new two year agreement. That’s right you get struck twice with AT&T. You have to pay full price for the phone AND sign a new two year contract.

As you can see AT&T thinks you suck. After all they are giving your the privilege of owning an iPhone and using their network. And since the iPhone can’t be used on any other network (without some hackery) in the United States you are stuck with them if you want that iPhone.

As much bad mouthing that people give Sprint I think AT&T are far worse.