Friday, November 13, 2015

Finally: the iPad Pro

(Photo: MacRumors.)

Like with the large iPhone, the other thing I waited impatiently for, for over two years, was the iPad Pro. Now I have one, and it does not disappoint.

I always loved my iPad, but used it less than my computer. But the beloved pancake device became more essential after I stopped doing processor- and screen-size demanding work every day. Now I use it far more than my Mac Pro.

And talking about Pro, I've had iPad Pro since yesterday, and it really put the frosting on the cake and the coronet on the princess. With a floor stand (, and sometimes an external keyboard, the normal iPad was not far from perfection, but for some applications I wished for a bigger one. Like using complex web sites with small text and long lines (Amazon and Wikipedia), Watching movies with beautiful visuals, and reading books with a lot of graphics or art.

When I got it, it was less "wow, that's huge", but more "yes, this is exactly what it should be".
(Also in that size and without any fingerprints yet, you could really appreciate what a beautiful piece of minimalist design this is.)
And I still have the (too expensive) Pencil to come for making my own art. Even without the essential pressure-sensitivity, making art on a tablet beats doing it on paper, for my money.

I am absolutely sure that a great number of enthusiasts and professional users will LOVE the iPad Pro. I don't think we really understand why yet, but it is a very different experience from using a small laptop, and a very different experience from using a phone, even a "phablet". If manking really has a core of sanity like we hope for, I can believe, like Phil Schiller said, that this is the future of computing.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

More on the iPhone 6s Plus

The iPhone 6s Plus is one of the best E readers in the world of the compact form (if a pricey one), and then there are these good things too.

 Even if one is doubtful one needs the large model, which I love, then the improved camera stabilisation and the greater functionality for surfing and  reading (because of the size) might make the difference.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Best commercial handstrap (Updated)

It's not difficult to make your own hand strap for your ereader/tablet, so your hand can relax while reading.
But alternatively, I have found one (count 'em, one) product which is great, in the way I think it should be done. (It should support the hand firmly, but comfortably, and have the thumb free to advance pages on the screen.)

It is the "TFY Padded Hand-Strap plus Velcro Adhesive Patch".

Home page. -- eBay page.

  • They also have straps integrated with a light rubber case if you prefer.
  • Note: for transport, it folds flat against the tablet. 
  • The use for a stand is OK... unless you want to tap too much, because it's not very stable, at least in the portrait orientation. But you can still use the kind of stand which is just a slit, without a back plate. Many of them are great. 
Both the Velcro patch and the strap can be placed where you want them, and removed again. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Failure to find ebooks is now rare

I got a book as a gift from a good friend, and I so far like it a lot, so I tried to find it in ebook format, but with no luck (Trust the Healer Within, by Nick Bamforth).

This is of course disappointing, since I really have come to prefer ebooks with their searchability, the options to change text size, etc. But it can also be seen as hard proof of the really quite incredible success of ebooks in just a few years: One is quite surprised now to look for a book of any popularity (an many which were never popular), and not finding it in ebook format. Considering the mass of publishers and the not-trivial work in putting out a decent ebook, that is pretty monumental. It may even be the fastest popularisation of any new medium in history.

You may hear that the growth of ebooks have paused. But the statistics this is based on does not take into account self-published books, which are booming at an astonishing rate. Last year 400,000 books were self-published in the US alone! And a significant percentage of those are quite successful, some extremely successful, look at 50 Shades or Wool.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Get a decent tablet for small money (updated re Fire HD 8)

Amazon brought out a new line of Fires. That's their tablet line, earlier called Kindle Fires, but they dropped the "Kindle". Also, there were no new Kindles (the B/W models with e-ink screens) announced at this time, even though fall is the traditional time of doing this. So even though Amazon pledges their continued support of e-ink Kindles, I think we can see that they are, at least slowly, heading towards the Dinosaur graveyards.

To be honest, I'm not all that surprised, by now. I had high hopes for that type of device, but even though screen resolution has been improved dramatically, and the frontlight has improved the grey-screen problem a lot, the fact still remains that the e-ink screen industry has basically failed to improve the low contrast problem. And why I am not sure, if that's the screen's fault too, but it remains that when you get used to modern fast tablets, an e-ink device moves like molasses in comparison. It's just not a pleasure to use, some feel.

Also, it seems that most people, including myself, really don't have much of a problem with reading on the tablets' backlit screens, especially since they became high-rez, so for most people e-ink readers really has nothing to attract them. They aren't even the cheapest readers now, so for many, the only real advantage they have is that they are the best for reading outdoors in bright light.

Re the new line of Fires, I'm sure they are good, but it's clear that the ambitions Amazon had for them of "selling premium devices for non-premium prices" (to quote Jeff Bezos) have failed (the Fire's market share being surprisingly disappointing), and so they have been modified sliiiiightly to: "selling pretty decent devices for rock-bottom prices". And admittedly, that often has an appeal too, even though I'm rather disappointed that they removed their flagship line, the HDX tablets, with their super-high-resolution screens, best speakers, etc.

[Update: I know have the new Fire HD 8. (Not the cheapest model, it's about $170 at 16 GB storage, very reasonable.) And it's my pleasure to report that despite the technically lower screen resolution (pixels per inch), I can not, even with a reading magnifier, see any difference in the sharpness, from the HDX! The color is even slightly better. And the speakers are the same, except they go a bit louder... It's a notch more elegantly designed, and it's cheaper. Well done Amazon.]

But now ebook-phobiasts has to find other excuses not to try ebooks out, because the entry level Fire tablet ("Fire 7", no hd) now costs only fifty dollars. FIFTY BUCKS! That's meal-and-movie money, for the small tech miracle that the tablet is. I think if you can't afford fifty dollars for a tablet (and get access to over a million free books of various kinds on the net), then you can't afford to buy very many books either.

The new Fires, up to and including their biggest yet, the new ten-incher, will be released this week, so in a week we should have a line of professional reviews to see just how good they are. Like I said, while not premium tablets, I think they will be pretty good. Previous ones have been (I use one a lot, because it has the best text-to-speech voice I know, and is the only device so far to read Kindle books aloud). 

But you should be aware of their main limitation: Amazon has prohibited the machines from getting apps from the normal Android App market place, Google Play Store. You can normally only get them from Amazon's own app store. For many it won't be a problem, but if you want to stray beyond enjoying Amazon content (ebooks, music, movies) on your tablet, be aware that the number of apps you can get for the Fires is quite limited. (I think that's a mistake by Amazon, and may be the reason for their low market share in tablets.)

Friday, September 11, 2015

New iPhone, Apple TV, and IPAD PRO!

I'm still in data-gathering and thinking mode, but meanwhile I recommend the videos on

The iPhone 6s+ is good, 12MP camera!

And finally it came: the iPad Pro! Ten wild supermodels could not keep be away from this beauty.
Not the least: it has Apple's own pressure- and tilt-sensitive stylus, called Apple Pencil. This is a huuuuuge boon for artists who can't pay the big fees Wacom's screen/tablets demand.
This amazing device is a very big step for tablets as creation devices. But also as reading devices for text books, technical books, Comic book, illustrated book, art books, etc.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Updates to Kindle, justification and a little bitchin'

The new Bookerly font; I like it, nice looking font. Though I find nothing striking about it. But I appreciate their work. (Oddly it was announced several weeks ago and I thought I already had it! But it seems it only came this week.
(My e-ink Kindle won't update, I guess they are doing it in waves, so I don't have Bookerly on that one yet.)

[Update later same day: The Kindle Voyage did begin an update by itself, while it was charging. But to my surprise, that contained changes to collections and family features, not the features talked about here. I guess they will come soon, maybe UK is a bit down the totem pole. There's no doubt that sending out an update costs money, particularly for those Kindles which are using the free (Amazon-funded) cell net connection instead of wifi.]

But it's true the Kindles have some odd holes. For example, on the Kindle Fire, there is simply too large steps between font sizes. I am simply missing a step between too-small and too-large. (The steps are big: one step shows only half as much text as the next smaller one. That is not subtle.) 
I have written to them about this several times over the years. At least it has been fixed now in the iOS apps, but not on the Kindle Fire. It is crazy to not be able to set a comfortable font size on the pioneering and world dominating e-reading device, one of which's primary advantages and selling points is that you can change font size! 

Almost as crazy is the lack of left-justification. For centuries good books have always had a loose right margin and hyphenation, but for eight years Kindle has not! Which apparently has finally been fixed now. 
But typically (they are run by different teams), apparently it has only been implemented on the B/W e-ink Kindles, which I've almost given up use because 1: they are still way too slow, and 2: the newer models don't have text to speech. 
The Kindle Fire has the best voice in the world, sometimes I almost forget it's not a human reading to me, I love it. 
It's a pity, because the Voyage model, though too expensive, is a nice device; best screen so far, best ergonomics so far, etc. But despite inclemental improvements over the years, it simply has not yet really beaten the downsides to e-ink, low contrast and slowness. 

But I wonder if passive screens really irritate the eyes so much less as some claim. Even when I want to read in a dark room, I use the Fire and use a black background. 

Still, I have all the many models of e-ink Kindles (seven?). Maybe it's like Neil Gaiman, he says he loves films which are "ambitious failures", for example All That Jazz. I love the ambition and the goals for the Kindles, and I hope they one day get them right. Contrasty screen whether one uses the front light or not (which does help a lot), and a lot faster. (Why are they still so slow? I've seen e-ink play video several years ago, so surely that can't be it. And processors have improved every year.)

In addition to things which must embarrass Amazon: Whispersync. It's two years since Jeff Bezos with understandable pride announced on stage that in the future you can get your book professionally read aloud to you, while at the same time you can follow the text in the ebook.

And this works and it's great... but only on iPhone/iPad!  On Amazon's own devices, Fire and Kindle, this does not even work yet!

I mean holy spit, what can cause a two year delay to a pure software technology, *after* it has been announced? 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What do publishers know?

Newspapers want us to believe that they are truly objective.

Politicians want us to believe that they are truly working for the Greater Good of everybody.

And publishers want us to believe that they truly have special knowledge and power to select just the best and just the right books to publish, which makes a book selected by them a Good Book, and a book not selected a Wrong Book, naturally.

This of course make self-publishing suspect: if the book is good, why couldn't it find a publisher?  Good question, but let's consider some evidence:

  • Chicken Soup For the Soul, the publishing super-success, went through denials from publisher after publisher, month after month, until the authors in desperation collected 20,000 promises-to-buy.
  • Dune, one of the world's most famous and successful science fiction books, was rejected by sixteen publishers. The author's wife picked up the manuscript from the trash and convinced him to send it out again
  • And of course: Harry Potter, the best selling, ultra-super-duper successful and influential novel series of all time, went through rejections from about twenty publishers before it found one who could see its merit!

The conclusion is inescapable: publisher, despite... well what do they have going for them? Only their own word, I'd guess... have no more idea what is a good book or what will be successful than you or I do. They have money, but these days they don't even promote your book, you must do that yourself. They may or may not pay an advance. But on the other hand, most authors get less than 10 percent of the earnings of the book. If you self-publish, the lion's share of earnings is yours, as it should be.

Big-5 publishers neatly shoot off own foot

This analysis shows the results of the big five winning their hard fight to have higher ebook prices at Amazon. The results being: Lower sales and lower income for the big 5, and higher sales and income for self-publishers and independent authors!

Why would they do that? Well, apparently they are still so scared of ebooks (for some reason we can't see, other than Fear Of The Unknown) that they'll try to block the rise of them, even if the cost is shooting themselves in the foot, the hand, the gut, the eye... (they are actually earning more on ebooks

What we see from the graphs above is that all the reporting lately on the plateauing or decline in ebook adoption is certainly true for major publishers, whose numbers are being used as if they represent the broader market, but their daily unit sales are less than a third of the total market. Ebooks may be on the downward slope for them, but not for everyone else. ...

One final point that bears mentioning: Protecting the paper book trade will not help publishers. We know from their own accounting that ebooks are far more profitable. Any report showing a decline in ebooks and an increase in print means a net loss for the Big 5 and their authors.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New iPad wallpaper

On my iPad as on my Mac, I like to have no icons at all on the desktop, just the clean wallpaper. (It too almost a decade before Apple made a OS which allowed me to do that, remove even the disk and the Trash icons.)

This is a screenshot from end titles of the wonderful animated TV show Daria (buy it now, it's super-cheap on Amazon). During the end titles they liked to feature the characters made up in very fanciful incarnations. This is Jodie Landon as Jimi Hendrix.

Normally I'm weary of text in art pictures, but then sometimes it can itself become a graphic element. Lo for examples all the shirts which have been made with text all over, like newspaper clippings for example.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Beautify your iPhone with a skull case

[Satire altert: ironic post.]
The hallmark of Apple has always been subtlety, simplicity, quiet beauty, and good taste. With this in mind, I finally found the perfect case for my iPhone.

I don't like to brag, but I've noticed that women often take an extra glance or two, and have to hide their admiring smiles behind a hand. It's really nice to be admired both for being Macho and for having a good sense of aesthetics.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Super-compact MacBook review. And Apple Watch review

Here is a nice review of the new super-compact and light MacBook.
Like other reviewers, he is surprised at the delight he gets from it. And it is not too low-powered for his use, something which worries some people.
[Update: some people really like the new flat keyboard, but others don't, some feel it is almost trending towards screen-typing. I like a good movement on a keyboard, so this has made me hesitate, I guess I'll have to try on in the real world.]

It's a damn tempting thing. I have always been a fan of efficiency, especially of technology which is simultaneously powerful and compact. For example, the number of compact-for-their-class cameras which I've bought over the decades... I just don't know.
So this is very tempting, although I have no immediate need for it. Every time I've gotten a new Apple device, it has been higher quality and more beautiful than the last (over twenty years, it's amazing), so I know I would love this. But then I've just ordered an Apple Watch, so... we'll see.

By the way, here's a great review of the Apple Watch.
Unusually, the arguably best option for me was also the cheapest! I have ordered the Sport version, which is lighter, being alu, and a Sports strap, which the above reviewer says is surprisingly luxurious, even if you disconsider the low price.
I got them in black and space grey. (Or is that Space Black? I've heard them both, and I'm not sure if there's a difference.)
It sounds like fun to me that the Watch can be used as a remote viewfinder and shutter trigger for the iPhone Six and Six Plus. So for example you can photograph in places where you can get a hand in but not your head. (For some uses it'd be practical to take off the watch to hold in the other hand.)

By the way, and more relevant to this blog: I am sure that in short order we will see more than one app which makes it possible to read on the Watch. Due to the tiny display, most of them will probably use the "speed reading" technology with which there are already several apps for the iPhone. It shows you one word at a time... Sounds doubtful, I know, but it's actually surprisingly natural if you're an experienced reader, and I can read 350 words per minute that way. Instapaper would be a good candidate, since it's popular, it takes in any web articles, and it already since recently has this speed-reading technology built in.
I hope for a Kindle app too. I'm not holding my breath, but you never know, they already have apps for a big number of platforms, and it would be good PR for them to say that you can read Kindle books from 55-inch screens down to 38-milimeter screens!
Oh, and if they do, I hope it can read aloud to you like the HDX can! If the processor and memory of this small device is up to it.

Am I psychic or what? The new update for Instapaper makes it Apple Watch-compatible! It's not clear if you can read on the screen, but it is clear that you can listen to it by text-to-speech. Very good.
I asked them if speed-reading would come, but they say the watch has to be changed first, because that would need the Instapaper app to loading content to the Watch's memory, and Apple does apparently not let apps use this rare resource on the watch, yet.
By the way, on one of the videos on Apple is showing a text coming in, and I think it contains enough text and is clear enough than it would not be totally ridiculous to actually read articles or maybe even books on the Watch in a pinch.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why is Apple making a gold watch?

Why is Apple making a gold watch? article.

Perhaps the smartest article I've read regarding this particular mystery. (The major mystery being that at over ten grand for the cheapest one in gold, Apple is for the first time making "Veblen" products, meaning products which get their main value from perceptions, status, and a very high price.)

The gold watch will never make much money compared to the iPhone, but it will change Apple's brand forever (it's already the only tech company which could pull off something like this), and it will change the sales of the cheaper watches, perhaps a lot.
I hope Apple has been smart enough to make the insides upgradable, that will create a lot of happiness and goodwill from gold-watch-owners in the future.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"You should buy the iPhone 6 Plus instead of the iPhone 6"

You should buy the iPhone 6 Plus instead of the iPhone 6, article 

I agree. It has a better camera, especially the anti-shake. And much better battery life, very important for busy people, just notice the absolutely HUGE market for phone extra-batteries and odd chargers. 

One thing that puzzles me is that the author says he bought a Kindle also because he finds the Six Plus a notch too small for Kindle reading. 
I don't get that because while I admit that I and many people would not want a smaller screen (though another group of "many people" actually read a lot on their smaller phones), I find, as I had predicted on this very site, the Six Plus to be just about the best pocketable ereader money can buy. (Not cheap, but then it's much more than just an ereader.)

This was confirmed by one of our best commenters, Ganesha Games, he told me: "I just got an iPhone Six Plus. It's the perfect ereader." 

It's not the best for everything of course. For complex layout or graphic rich text, you will want a bigger screen. And a bigger screen is good for many things, especially if you don't have to carry the device around much. BUT: for reading pure text, and for a portable reader (you can carry in a pocket or a small purse), the Six Plus is just amazing. It's light, the screen is sharp as heck, it has the best Kindle software anywere (it's actually better than Amazon's own Kindle Fire devices in some areas!). 

It's a very slick little fokker too, physically, easy to drop, so I recommend getting a rubber bumper. Or do like I do, put a simple loop of leather or fabric on the back to stick a few fingers through, for a remarkably better grip, almost totally effortless. You can use Velcro, or get a cheap bumper case with a back and use superglue. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Too many devices"?? No way

Hi friends, Just this morning I had a strange experience which may indicate that there is such a thing as “too many devices”!  Crazy as that sounds.

While in the wee wee room just after getting up, I hear a computer voice call out for Barry Moe, pretty loud, somewhere in the apartment. Never heard it before, no idea which it was or why. Spooky.

I would go nuts if I didn’t generally turn of most Notifications, and even totally silence some of my devices. But things change, and sometimes there’s a new Ghost.

Even when I had searched around and now had limited it to one side of my bedroom, that was limited help, because on my bedstand I discover that I have no less than *six* speakers or devices with speakers! (If we count single speakers, it’s ten of them.) (An iPhone, a landline phone, an iPod Classic in a speaker hub, a bluetooth speaker, Soundsticks II speakers, a Kindle HDX. I try regularly to cut it back to a minimum, I do!)

It turned out it was the silly bluetooth speaker (well, it’s otherwise quite good). And it wanted me to know that it had a “battery low” situation. Not Barry Moe, but “battery low” in a poor computer voice. Couldn’t somebody at least have recorded this so it was intelligible?  And what if it starts doing that in the middle of the night, and you have a job interview or test in the morning?

My friend B added some perspective: 
… a while back, I read a long article recounting the acclimatization of a Westerner settling in Japan. There was a whole section about all of the noises produced by everything over there, showing how the Japanese love their "smart" gadgets.

There was this one sound in particular that would eruct at the oddest times, and at any hour of the day or night, but he could never figure out what it was or where it came from. In the end, as a desperate measure to fend off the insanity slowly settling in I suppose, the guy had to resort to asking the landlord to help him find this tormenting ghost. Turned out to be the bathtub signaling it's readiness to serve and please its master... no sh*t.

Me, I would go insane -- I mean violent insane, far worse than my usual state, that is. I get pissed when the microwave loudly beeps four times when it's done because one beep at 1/10th the volume would largely suffice. Heck, just the thing going silent is enough to say it's done, wait at least 10 seconds before annoying the world!! I just don't get people who love such aggressions.

But the worst part is that, things being what they are, I have built internal filters (just like everyone else) to disregard the ruckus. Which makes the @#$%^!! bell necessary, because I don't notice the effing thing going quiet any more. And, lately, it seems that I'm starting to not notice the effing beeper either... making the beeper even more redundant or, God preserve us, making it insufficient?
-- B

Warm regards, Eolake