Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Verge, tech site

I found a tech site I'd not been aware of: The Verge. It seems very solid. Here's their 2011 year in review article. And another interesting one: best writing of 2011. Phew, all I needed: more reading stuff!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Apple fined by Italy over misleading product guarantees

Apple fined by Italy over misleading product guarantees, article.

Apple is selling the Applecare service, which for a nice lump of money extends the guarantee to two years. But apparently in the Eu, including UK, electronic products already per law has two years of guarantee!
Well, that's friggin good to know!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Play videos from your computer on your iPad

It seems that now it is not just updates which can be done wirelessly to the iPad, you can even play any music or video sitting on your computer! Well, sitting in iTunes, to be exact. (It works on Mac, I'm not sure about Windows.) That's amazing.
And more amazing yet, this one also works via the Internet. Although obviously if it is a long video it will take a while to download to the iPad, unless you have an exceptionally fast upload link from your computer. (Most Internet connections are much slower to upload than to download, I suspect this is to prevent too durn much file sharing using the ISP's bandwidth.)

I only found out about this because suddenly in the Video app on my iPad, a new tab appeared: "Sharing". I am not even sure if it's due to a software update very recently, or if it's due to a setting I changed somewhere. (Apple is way ahead with sharing apps, files, and streams, but the settings for this are spread over a dozen different apps and devices, very confusing.)

Digital prices

It's amazing how digital pricing shows better than ever how arbitrary prices really are. Some services charge eight dollars for a 24-hour movie rental. That's crazy when you often can buy it on disc for less. And then on the other hand, I have just signed up for a Kindle subscription (now on iOS too) for Fantasy And Science Fiction, a magazine, for 99 pence a month! Now that's what I call a reasonable price! Perhaps even too low for their own good, but we'll see how things shake out over the years.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bender in the year 10,000

In a Futurama episode from a couple of years ago, Bender and a couple of others are stranded in the year 10,000 (the professor had the 'brilliant' idea of a time machine which only goes forwards). This future is somewhat apocalyptic, but it tickled me to see that amongst the precious books our friends are burning to keep warm is a first-generation Kindle, accurately rendered! Well done, Futurama creators, you are first class geeks. (They really are, some of them of the kind who can recite pi to the 400th decimal place.)



Good writers?

I can only come up with two names for consistently interesting writers in the tech field: Andy Ihnatko and David Pogue.

Does anybody know anybody else worth following?

Read magazines in your iPad Kindle app

For the longest time it has been an oddity that you could read Kindle subscription magazines on Kindle devices and on Android devices, but not on iPad!
I honestly suspected something "political" behind it, like related to Apple's commission policies re content bought inside an iOS app. But maybe not, because along with other interesting developments, this whole thing seems now to be fixed in the 2.9 version of the Kindle iPad app, it's a big update.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Word processor for e-text (updated)

Somebody pointed out in an article that word processors are an endangered species because they were designed for print. I hadn't thought of that, but that immediately gave me the idea; hey, isn't it time we got a Word Processor which is from the bottom up designed for e-text? Something for writing, which will give you the formatting options you need for blogs, twitter, web articles, and of course ebooks!
I would love that. I almost never write for the page anymore. It would be especially good if the thing would have the power (though it would not be easy to make) to export to multiple ebook and other formats, ePub, Kindle, and whatnot.

UPDATEs:
Will recommended Scrivener, which I have heard many good things about as a very powerful and flexible tool.

Anon said:
Not sure what you are after but, how does Apple's "Pages.app" do what you want to accomplish? It too was probably designed for print but since it's WYSIWYG isn't it suitable for e-publication as well?

Yes, actually Pages sounds like a good thing. I know that it produces ePub files which are good enough that Take Control Books use the app, and that's a strong recommendation since they do technical books (tables, links, etc) and are quite demanding.

But notice it's called "Pages"...
I was thinking a bit abstractly, rather than looking for an app for a specific purpose. Sort of wondering, when will apps start to loose the anchoring in paper and pages and fully embrace the rapidly growing age of digital publication, where printing on paper is not the first use but a rather specialized one if it's done at all.

Play with photos

About Snapseed, one of the best photo apps I've tried.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Clean Writer 2.0 for iPad

Clean Writer 2.0 for iPad. (On sale now, dirt cheap.)

Even though one might say that the Macbook Air is much better for a traveling writer, with more power and flexibility, I dunno, there's just something about 1: using something for something it was not *really* meant for and using it well, and 2: Simplicity. One app at a time and the general simplicity of the iPad interface, used powerfully with an external keyboard, just appeals to me. (Apparently many people do very well even without an external keyboard, I envy them.)




... Of course there are many factors to weigh in, such as what apps you like and need, and that a laptop is faster to pack up and away than an iPad with keyboard, etc. But I just think this has some unique charm. And you can pack away the keyboard and use the iPad as ereader and all the things it's good for.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Will E-Books Destroy the Democratizing Effects of Reading?


Will E-Books Destroy the Democratizing Effects of Reading?, article.
Imagine Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin, raised in poverty, self-taught from a small cache of books, being stymied in his early education by the lack of an e-reader. 

This is not an intelligent article, and not worthy of such a publication as MIT's Technology Review in my humble opinion (as humble as I can be, not much admittedly).
Obviously there will be many movements to educate children in poor areas, and of course prices will continue to fall, but even if prices did not continue to fall, even today it costs far less to provide a child with a devices which gives access to so much education from the web, free video, out-of-copyright ebooks, etc, than it would cost to provide them with even one-thousandth of such material in printed form, which has to be produced, handled, and shipped, and administrated.

UPDATE: Bruce wrote:

...in my High School people who took Math and Physics carried sliderules around with them - except for the wealthy few who had the hot new gadget of the day - The TI electronic calculator you could wear on your belt.
One morning, well before I graduated from college, I poured myself a bowl of cereal. A very small electronic calculator, sealed in plastic, came out of the box along with my cereal. It was free, and was included in many cereal boxes, not just mine.
If you can imagine Abe Lincoln, a few years from now, being able to afford cereal for breakfast, then he could still be President. 

Well said.
I didn't know that calculators became that cheap that early. But certainly the Kindle has dropped from almost $500 to $80 in four years, so a thing like that is already teetering on the edge of a throw-away object. And I can easily imagine projects like One Laptop Per Child getting donations for big productions, getting prices down to maybe $20 per child/device within a couple of years, if not now. That's the price of one hardcover book, but the device would have access to several million free ebooks just for starters.

Wireless updates without wifi?

When Apple introduced wireless updates without wifi, I didn't get all that excited, because my main Mac does not use wifi, it uses ethernet to connect to the Internet (after years of battling all the constant minor issues with wifi, I just bought a long ethernet cable, and since then, no connection problems).

But it was fun to try it once at least, so I set my iPad to sync wirelessly anyhow, and tried it, having turned on wifi on the Mac.

But I've noticed that the iPad shows up in iTunes on the Mac even when the Mac is *not* on wifi, and then I tried to click on the sync button on the Mac, and the iPad started updating! All the new apps, podcasts, etc. I went to look at the iPad and yep, they were downloading.

So I would guess that the Mac/iTunes is communicating with the iPad via Apple's server, and then tells the iPad which files to download, not from the Mac, but from Apple's server! Remarkable. I really would not have expected them to think it further than "of course both machines have to be on the same wifi network to sync".
I guess this also means that so long as both devices are on the Net, each can be anywhere in the world and they can still sync.
(Sync can also be started on the iPad, by plugging in the wall charger.)

Update: I think now instead that this has been happening when my iPad has been on the network (one of two) into which my tower Mac was plugged via Ethernet! So, probably no Internet involved.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Support TidBITS

The world's longest-running and arguably most valuable tech newsletter, TidBITS, needs support. Read about it here, and support by clicking on Join TidBITS on this page.

Like they say:
...we focus on topics we believe are useful, accurate, and interesting, as opposed to sensationalist topics or false rumors designed to garner quick attention. We’re writing to help you in your daily usage of Macs and iOS devices, not so we can package your eyeballs and sell them to the highest bidder. 

It's true. I myself wrote:

The Tidbitters take their work seriously, and they are well trained and experienced. One example: TidBITS is about the only tech news web site were I have never seen a report of a "new dangerous virus threat", which later turned out to be virtually non-existent. But I know they will know about it if and when one happens. So they are my go-to place for solid information.
What's more, unusually, almost uniquely, the site has never stressed quantity as being important for a web business (whether it is or not). If an item is there, it has a reason for it. You don't have to wade through five fluff articles to find one relevant one.
-

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Digital Readers, an essay

Digital Readers, an essay by Kathryn Pope.
.... because the magic of reading isn’t necessarily in the smell of the pages, and it’s not in the size and shape of the paperback. There’s nothing special in book binding glue. The magic comes in the way that we become absorbed in the stories and ideas of others. The magic is in the suspension of our disbelief, the beauty or cacophony of words, the way we move from our physical world to another when we enter a book. It’s in what David Lodge talks about when one of his characters suggests that the novel is the closest thing to telepathy that we can get. The book happens with the words, not the object—plus, if books are sacred as objects, rather than vehicles for the words inside, we’re already doing a bad job of treating them that way.

I love real bibliofiles. Or rather, real readers. Like the pretty lady says, "it's the content, stupid!" or words to that effect.
Kathryn writes really well too:
After work, I walked through the city, discovering New York’s indie bookstores. I listened to audiobooks on a cassette-playing Sony Walkman (job perk), and as I walked, I gazed at ads for something called an iPod, which made silhouettes dance on brightly colored backgrounds. I wondered why we still used cassettes. I started reading about how people would soon be reading on computers, how novels would come on Palm Pilots, how things might soon change. I dreamt of all sorts of possibilities—silhouettes dancing with books on brightly colored backgrounds.
-

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movies on Android

So the Android Market now rents movies. That's good, that's a piece that was missing compared to iOS.
The downside is that it seems not to have TV shows so far, and the prices, unlike Amazon US's one-dollar rental, are high. And only 48 hours, and no buying.
(Apart from that, I have a bug: when they take payment, my login works fine, but when I try to download the movie, it doesn't! Too precious.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Size Matters, or The Five-inch Phone

Size matters, no matter what your first girlfriend told you.

I think the future of the phone is in the 5-inch size. Apple may be slow to go there, since they didn't invent it, and they can be a bit stubborn about such things. But I think it's like with desktop monitors, why does Apple no longer make a 15-inch or even a 17-inch iMac? Because everything else being equal, bigger is better. Once you could make screens cheap enough, they grew.

And I tell you, the usability difference between a 3.5-inch screen and a 5-inch screen with the same pixel density is very far from trivial. With web surfing, with reading, and with video, it's a big difference. I could never use an iPhone for web surfing, it feels like doing the tango in a phone booth. But with the Samsung Galaxy Note's 5.3-inch screen it's much more palatable. And the Note is thinner and barely weighs more than the iPhone.

So now the price difference is becoming trivial, the question is if anybody has too small pockets for a 5-inch phone? Maybe on some garments for children and women, I'm honestly not sure, but none of my clothes can't easily fit one.

An iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy Note



Adam Engst wrote:
Pockets for women are an interesting topic - they either don't exist reliably enough or aren't large enough (even for the iPhone) so women generally have to come up with another way of carrying devices anyway.

It is indeed interesting. To men, the idea of not having pockets is ludicrous.
What puzzles me most is that so many ladies’ purses (most?) have no shoulder-strap, so their hands are never free. What they do sacrifice for fashion!

Update:
To me, the Galaxy Note is the Kindle to the Nth degree. It's screen is barely smaller, but it's a ton smaller and lighter, the screen has twice the resolution and ten times the contrast (for a e-ink Kindle),  it is way faster, it can handle whatever content you can throw at it, text or otherwise...
As a reader, it sucks me in. Even a full magazine format is quite easy to read on it, and for something formatted for smaller screens, I don't see how you can make a better device and keep it pocket-sized.
I'd prefer iOS (it would make video and vodcasts easier to get at with iTunes), but otherwise...

[Update] ...I realize that opinion is odd to some and unlikeable to others. But I throw it out in this brash fashion because 1) the e-ink Kindle hardly needs more promoters and 2) I think this idea is not one many have yet, but I think it's a very promising one. The Galaxy Note is not cheap, but if done purposefully, I don't see why something like it could not be done for a price similar to the Kindle Fire's price. And to me it's more useful than the Fire, which needs to shred 200 grams and half the thickness, and even then wouldn't be pocketable for most. 

"Casellet" iPhone case/wallet

Here's the Kickstarter page for an upcoming iPhone case/wallet called Casellet.

I think it looks like a nice idea. Except perhaps that it holds few coins, and you have to remove bills and credit cards to get to them. But on the other hand, I have seen wallet designs (not even phone cases) which had no space at all for coins!

So perhaps one can at least use it for short outings where one does not expect to use cash a lot. It'll mean one less object to keep track of.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Airbook (vs iPad)

MacWorld's hardware best list has the 11-inch MacBook Air as no 1. I won't argue, it's a spectacular machine, beautiful and totally right as a compact laptop, even speedy in the last couple of renditions. Barely larger than an iPad, but a full-powered Mac computer.


I've been dreaming about such a machine since 1995 when I got my first Mac, but it took 15 years for technology to get up to it.
It's a dream machine for the writer on the road, or almost anybody on the road.

Update:

Tonya Engst (co-founder and -editor of TidBITS, the longest-ongoing tech newsletter on the Net) said...

I just bought a new 11" MacBook Air. Much as I enjoy my iPad, I've not been able to type as quickly on the onscreen keyboard as I can on a physical keyboard. Even for just email and Web, when I get into some of the more complex things that I do, I need to type a lot or to do a lot of complex things with Web-based content management or administrative tools. So, while I can do them on an iPad, it is a lot faster on a Mac, with it's bigger screen, more sophisticated text-entry options for inputting standard chunks of text, and ability to show two windows at once. I thought the iPad would be great for mobile email/Web even so (when traveling), but I need to do certain customer support tasks (even when on vacation/traveling), and the MacBook Air should make them faster and easier. Although the MacBook Air is bigger than the iPad, it's not bigger by much. The main downside is no built-in data modem [no cell phone network connection), so I'll be dependent on finding Wi-Fi or I could set up my iPhone in tethering mode.


I should add that I've tried traveling with an external keyboard for the iPad, and it was okay, but it was harder to pull out and use quickly, say, while waiting in the airport, harder to use while reclining on a hotel bed, and just generally more clunky than the ease of sliding a laptop out of a bag and getting to work immediately.

Thank you Tonya, helpful to hear this.
I think we will learn in what ways tablets are different beasts over the coming years, as they develop and we learn to use them for what they are best for. They may have some maturing to do before they can replace most computers as Steve Jobs predicted. The keyboard is an interesting factor, I wonder if there'll ever be a perfect solution.

Of course one might take into consideration that Tonya is not exactly the typical mass-market customer, being arguably a geek of geeks with specialized needs. Not that this changes the physical aspects of these issues of course.

All the same apps

I am on a mailing list for Apple-related, IOS-related press releases. I find it interesting that it sometimes feels like everybody is doing the same things, and expecting to make money on it. They either make note-taking apps, or task-management apps, or children's books/apps. The market is just flooded with these things.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reasonably rental

I didn't care much that Kindle fire can't be used to buy video outside the US, but now I care a little bit at least. Because I just found out that a 48-hour rental of such a movie as the last Harry Potter movie is only one dollar!
Now, that's more like it. I've been frustrated with the online/cable rental systems, because typically they'd charge five to eight dollars for a rental, which I think it really simply too much. It's almost half the price of getting the disc with the extras and limitless viewings.

So I hope the music and video content will not take too long for Amazon to establish outside the US.

BTW, they just opened Kindle stores in Italy and Spain (we already had UK, Germany, and France), good stuff.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kindle cases

Waterfield Kindle cases.
I love their products, I have so many of their bags and cases.


If you want to carry a little more, try the Muzetto. It's so nice it could make the Clint Eastwood carry a murse.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So many chargers

Man, if I were to slip in the bathtub and die, I am sure the number of battery chargers for different devices and cameras in my apartment would make the local newspaper. "Local bachelor dies, leaves loaf of black bread and 154 battery chargers."

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kindle gift

Isn't it bizarre that you still can't buy a kindle ebook as a gift for somebody else? iTunes solved this years ago.

Update:

Jason said...
Am I missing something? I see the big "Give as a Gift" button on every Kindel ebook page. Just under buy with one-click.

That's interesting. Maybe they have introduced it on the US site and not the UK one yet. (And I can't buy from the US one.)

The old Rocket Ebook (updated again)

Did you know about the Rocket Ebook from just before the millennium? As an ereader enthusiast, I just had to have this classic. I found it on eBay for 21 dollars! (with all parts, and working fine, "very good" condition. A lucky buy, the only other one was 90 bucks.)

It's ten years old, and apparently it was well ahead of it's time, for it was a colossal flop, it's amazing how little material there is available on it, and all the related web sites (the manufacturer  library, etc) are just gone.

For all that, apart from the bulk/weight (620 grams/22oz, size of a paperback, really not bad), a bit of jaggies (no grey tones), and not much memory (held less than 15 books), it is surprisingly good. With the backlight on, I find it in some ways better to read on than an e-ink Kindle. And the interface is nice and simple.


OK, like came with the times, you had to have a wired (serial) connection to your computer to transfer files, and special software and such. But for the time, I think it really was very good, and deserved to had succeeded some way.

Haha, it even comes with a serial-to-MacSerial adapter. There has not been a Mac made with a serial port for over a decade. I could get a parallel to USB adapter, but the software of course is for Mac OS 8, which modern Macs won't even run in emulation. Ah well, I didn't really get it for use, more for the historical value.

Update:
Hey, I just remembered I have an old HP laptop running XP. What do you know, it has the requisite ports, the software installed perfectly, and it's working! Now just to see if the software still has any valid Net connections to content...
Update: Long story short, of course it doesn't. Sites are long gone.
And it's hard to find books in .rb format. But I realized that probably the reader could read plain old .txt files, so I went to Gutenberg.org and found a book, Bleak House by Dickens (which somebody recommended recently), and got it transferred to the Rocket. It works!
Unfortunately there are many ugly line breaks. Who puts line breaks in a .txt file??! But anyway, I can fix that on my Mac, but at least now I know that I can get books the Rocket Ebook, and that makes it more fun.

Update:
A recommended the Baen Free Library, which (probably due to its ancienity) includes the Rocket format. Thanks, dude.

For those interested, here is a another ebook reader of the time, a big one, the Softbook Reader. The screen was almost as big as the iPad's!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reading and Time, Artists And Illustrators


I thought to check if Artists And Illustrators would happen to be available via Zinio on my iPad. It was. And I was already subscribing and had two issues waiting, I’d forgotten! 
This illustrates (pun not intended) how many different things I’m reading, or trying to, these days. I think my Zinio subs would keep me in reading alone, and then there is news and articles from the web, various ebooks fiction and non-fiction, comics, audiobooks and so on. It's an embarrassment of riches. 

I remember about 20 years I told a friend: I wish I had the money to buy all the books I'd like. He said: but how'd you get the time to read it? I said: time is your problem, not mine*.
So years later I became successful enough to buy any book I wanted. And I admit it is indeed nice.
And time? ... I don't know, would we really accomplish more with 30 hours in a day? Or are there other factors at play, like what we really want to do, and what we can face doing?

---
*He was always complaining about not enough time, for example to make his music. Once I pointed out that maybe he was fooling himself, because when he'd gotten a grant and taken two months off in Paris to work on his music, all he got done was revisions of a couple of lyrics. He couldn't refuse that point, so he laughed and said: "well, at least it's only myself I'm trying to fool." I let him have that, no reason to kick a man when  he's down, it was a very brave admission.     :-)

Friday, November 25, 2011

DNA-Case for iPhone

If like me you enjoy the sheer quality of good hardware and this is one of the reasons you have an iPhone 4(s), you may like the DNA-Case.
It's from aluminium and doesn't weigh much in itself, but still together with the iPhone it does make for a solid little package, in that the phone is all glass and metal itself. One may like that or not. But I think it may be one of the best looking cases made just for the iPhone 4, and the only one I've seen which showcases the iPhone's beautiful metal sides.



It comes in black, white, alu, or Chrome.
It has rubber lining inside. It's not difficult to mount, though of course it does require a small screwdriver (which they provide).

Update:
Maybe I should have got the alu or white model, because I must admit that while this black case looks pretty good on the white iPhone, it looks just stunning on a black one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The New Yorker and digital magazines' future

I've talked about how I like the Zinio magazines, which make magazines into PDFs, including infinitely zoomed text (unlike some Kindle Fire magazines which apparently get pixelated text when you zoom in, highly unfortunate).
But there's an even better thing: the format The New Yorker and a few other mags use: a custom design for the iPad/Android magazine, where you browse each article horizontally, and if an article/item has more than one page, you read on vertically. This is very simple and very logical. Of course it takes more work to convert a magazine into such a format. I wonder how much more it would cost Zinio to make the magazines into this format, surely not trivial.

One odd choice (oversight?) in the iPad New Yorker though is that like with many of these magazines, one can't change the text size. To be frank about it, this is like making a car where you can't turn the wheels. Admittedly the chosen text size is comfortable for me, but it might seem large to one with 20/20 vision, and it might be too small for somebody with poorer vision. Changeable text size is one of the biggest boons of digital publishing, it puzzles me why anybody would throw that away.

It anyway seems to me that magazines/papers are well on their way in the digital realm, though only a few of them make good money on it yet. I suspect that the take-off point will be when we have a reader device which is twice the size of the iPad, half the weight of the iPad, and half the price of the iPad. That might take a few years, but it will happen. I believe. It has to, otherwise the job is just half done, for many reasons.

I have heard so many people who like myself, after they have been reading electronically for a couple of months, really don't want to go back to paper. It's surprising to all of us, and I'm very curious what, apart of course from convenience and speed, this attraction is. I have a feeling there's more to it.

Update:
Re The New Yorker itself, being Danish I have not been exposed to it in the past, but I've always heard about what fantastic quality it is, for example one writer said that his personal hardly-achievable goal is to write as well as those published in the New Yorker. But so far I must admit I don't really see what all the hullabaloo is about, nothing in the first issue I've read seemed outstanding in any way. (And not substantial either, people said TNY has such long articles, but I didn't see any.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Accents are a problem for voice software


Well, it's becoming more and more clear (thanks to my readers who commented) that an accent is a big problem for dictation- or voice-command software. Generally speaking it seems that unless you have a clear and accent-free English, the computer does not understand you well enough for it to be really useful.

That's a big challenge for all, because the number of people in this world speaking English as a second language or with regional accent is huge. And my hope is not great that anybody will make, for example, Danish voice-recognition and dictation software in the near future. And in any case that would not help me all that much, because I almost always write in English (excepting of course emails to my danish friends and family). If I write a novel (or just a blog), I want it to not be limited to the tiny Danish audience.

I guess, theoretically, if people generally understand what you say, at some point computers will get to that point too. But when? In ten years? Twenty? Fifty? Sigh.

 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

(Updated) Highly mixed reviews of Kindle Fire

Update:
OK, I just got my Kindle Fire today, overseas to UK. And it's early days yet, but I felt I better report that I don't really see any of all that sluggishness, non-responsiveness, and bugginess that some of the reviewers below talk about. So far, it really seems like a nice Android experience. Main liability I note so far is the weight, 410 grams (14.5oz) is a bit on the heavy side for relaxed reading, especially in bed or when you want to read one-handedly for a while. In this aspect the Galaxy Note beats the pants off the Fire at 170 grams, although of course the Note is more expensive and smaller (but with a sharper screen).

Although it ostensibly works only in the US, it has no problem letting me read my Kindle library, or surf the web, and so on. So this was my main objectives for getting it, all is well.
When  try getting to videos, paid or included, it does not seem to realize "consciously" that I'm not in the US, but I do get an error message when I try to play a video. I had not expected to get away with that either.

OK, it's clear that I can't buy media on this one. I can buy books though, via the Amazon UK ebook store. Although oddly, so far I've only been able to make purchased books turn up on my iPad, not on the Kindle Fire itself. Don't know what's going on there, demands more investigating.


Original post:
The Fire Aside, Amazon’s Lower-Priced Kindles Also Shine, David Pogue in NYT.
Most problematic, though, the Fire does not have anything like the polish or speed of an iPad. You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. There are no progress or “wait” indicators, so you frequently don’t know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn’t been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery.

Walt Mossberg Reviews Kindle Fire, article.

This new $199 device is called the Kindle Fire, and after testing it for a week, I think it's a good—though not a great—product and a very good value. [...] 
To be clear, the Kindle Fire is much less capable and versatile than the entry-level $499 iPad 2. It has a fraction of the apps, a smaller screen, much weaker battery life, a slower Web browser, half the internal storage and no cameras or microphone. It also has a rigid and somewhat frustrating user interface far less fluid than Apple's.

A human review of the Kindle Fire, article from the maker of Instapaper.
I expected the Kindle Fire to be a compelling iPad alternative, but I can’t call it delightful, fun, or pleasant to use. Quite the opposite, actually: using the Fire is frustrating and unpleasant, and it feels like work.
[...]

Magazines are a special beast on the Fire. They can either be custom apps, like on the iPad, or they can provide their content in a split “Page View”/”Text View” interface provided by Amazon.
The “Page View” is unusable. It’s literally just a big image of the magazine pages, like someone scanned them in. There’s nothing modern about it — the table of contents, being just an image, doesn’t even link to the articles. The Fire’s screen is so much smaller than a magazine that you need to zoom and pan constantly, and the zooming and panning is frustratingly sluggish, jerky, and clumsy. Even when zoomed in, my example issue of The Economist didn’t even have sharp text.

This is a great pity, and very different from Zinio's usability, it has working links, and if you zoom in all the way, the text stays pin-sharp, it's real text, not just an image.
Marco also replies to one of those who say that the negative reviews of the Fire are wrong because they compare it to the much more expensive iPad:

As an aside, I need to argue with Steve in good fun about his car analogy:


"Complaining that the Fire is less thrilling or compelling than an iPad is a bit like grumbling that a Honda Civic is less fun and exciting than an Audi A6. Both do what they are intended to do very well (though their intended functions are a lot more alike than the Fire and the iPad.)
The Civic is a great car. It’s not the fastest, the most fun, or the must luxurious, but it’s smooth, comfortable, versatile, and extremely reliable. It does what it’s supposed to do exceptionally."


The Kindle Fire is not a great tablet. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do well. That’s the difference. If Amazon had made a “Civic of tablets”, it would have been a much better product. Maybe, someday, they will.

Maybe Amazon really over-reached in wanting to beat the market to death with a super-low-priced color Kindle?
But then the original Kindle also had lots of problem, poor usability and frailty for example, and it still succeeded and got better in later generations. And of course, with Amazon's sheer momentum, it will take some huge problems to make the Fire anything like a failure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to make a full Android tablet of a Kindle Fire

How to make a full Android tablet of a Kindle Fire.
I knew this would happen, but this was fast! Only a couple of days.



The article and video also explains about doing similar things to the new Nook Tablet.

And it mentions how to get a regular Android browser if you don't like Amazon's fancy "cover flow" one (to use Apple's term).
I did something similar a couple days ago: I updated the software on my Dell Streak which I bought a year ago (neat little 5-inch tablette). And after I had done so, the home screen/launcer had been replaced by a horrible interface called "Dell Stage". What it basically did was place the icons on a little stage on the screen, and the net (and so far I could see, only) effect was to reduce useable screen space to under one third! Most idiotic thing I ever saw. So I googled "remove Dell Stage" and I found out I merely had to download a free app launcher from the Market, and I was back to a sensible use of the screen again.

Now we're cooking. iPad is still missing real competition in the full-sized tablet space, but it has very tough competition now in the 7-inch space, the Fire is only 40% of the iPad's price! And it would surprise me if Amazon does not follow up next year with a larger model. Their magazine and video services pretty much demand it.

Talking about the Kindle: the fact that it's running an old version (2.3) of Android which was not meant for tablets (only phones) does not exactly help with the problem of fragmentation of Android. Developers will have to make special versions of their apps if they want in on this popular device.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N

Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N, article.

This is some of the stuff B&N pulled off in the last year -
Released a Reading Tablet a year before Amazon.
Released a touch-screen eReader months before Amazon. Almost eliminated the page-turn problem.
Turned Nook Color into the #2 selling Tablet after iPad. You can argue technicalities, but the bottom line is that Nook Color has sold more than any other non-iPad tablet.
Showed that there is a market for non-iPad Tablets. This is a HUGE thing. It has given everyone else hope and will lead to the end of the iPad’s domination in Tablets. The biggest lesson it has taught everyone is – Don’t compete on your enemy’s strengths. A lesson that Amazon has learnt very well.
Released a Nook Tablet that pulls off some impressive things – 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM, HD support, IPS screen, 16 GB memory. That’s a LOT of goodness for $249 – Tablets and smartphones with comparable specifications retail for $400 to $500.
Built up a very interesting Nook Color App Store. 1,100 Apps aimed at Tablets.
Added Email support and lots of other features to Nook Color and morphed it from a Reading Tablet to an almost full-fledged Tablet.
-

Monday, November 14, 2011

Got my Galaxy Note

Just got my Samsung Galaxy Note (N7000) today. First impressions: wow, this may be the most impressive "BigPhone" yet. (Let's see if that term catches on.) Apple really needs to make a larger iPhone or Touch, stat. This screen blows the iPhone 4(S) away. It is almost the same sharpness (pixel size etc) and color quality, but it's twice the size, area-wise, and that puts it into another ballpark when we talk enjoying reading and video on the go.

On the downside so far I notice that it does not always have the "instant app change" that iOS has, if I leave the Zinio app (which Samsung use for magazines in their "Reader's Hub"), it has to start up again when I come back to it, this is unfortunate. Also I have so far a bit of trouble with it losing Net connection, on both my wifi networks, let's see how that plays out, it really should not be common.

(iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy Note, both displaying American Photo on Zinio.) 
(Note, in the Zinio app you can zoom in to your heart's content, I think it works pretty well even on a 5.3-inch screen. I won't hesitate to read on it when I don't have my iPad around.)

Update
I'd say that apart from the price, this is currently the portable ereader to have, unless eyesight is an issue, or one prefers a non-backlit screen (I don't care for the Kindle's passive, grey screen, but some do). The Note weighs only 180 grams and is very thin. And it is easily held in one hand from behind, you don't have to try and find space for the finger on the bezel as with a 7-inch or 10-inch device.

On another note, the Kindle Fire started shipping today, so we should get early reviews soon. I'm starting to lean a little towards thinking that it may be the 7-inch tablet/reader which is the "tweener" though, and five inches right for pockets, and ten inches or larger right for stands and bookholders. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Holy Fire, Advertising, and Android’s Fragmentation

Android’s Fragmentation Mess–and How to Fix It, article.

Even when Android handsets do get updates, it can take eons. Sprint’s Epic 4G, for instance, just got Gingerbread, almost a year after the software shipped. For Epic owners, Gingerbread finally showing up was less a happy event than a brusque reminder that they shouldn’t count on seeing Ice Cream Sandwich any time soon.

A funny thing is that this article itself suffers from fragmentation. In this case, page fragmentation. A cool thing about the web is that space is infinite, so you don't have to have "pages" except to organize things. And yet many web sites split articles up into several pages for no reason. Except: to get more page counts for their advertisers. They try to earn more money by irritating their customers, which is classic advertising strategy, it's no wonder it's in trouble.

I think advertising in general is an aesthetic and perhaps even ethical blight upon our culture. In Bruce Sterling's excellent book Holy Fire* there's a brief line which tells us that in the book's time, about 60 years from now, advertising has been outlawed globally for years. I like that thought. But I don't consider it likely, simply because advertising is big money, and anything pulling in big money simply can't be suppressed in human society, just take street drugs for example, despite seemingly universal opposition and illegality, it's a huge business.

And I guess if advertising were actually to be outlawed, it would be forced underground, and become an even bigger problem because we would never know to which degree a book or film is art or advertising, and for me that would spoil them a lot. This is already partly so with "product placement".


*Holy Fire is about a very old and careful and well-preserved woman who gets a highly experimental youth-treatment, which is very successful. But her inner "holy fire" is so strong that she runs away from her medical monitors and goes to Europe (from the US). It's a sprawling adventure, but what impresses me is the subtle, underlying feeling of this "holy fire" which the woman regains, the "lust for life" as the classic van Gogh bio expresses it. It is so very undefinable, and yet it's there, and we can lose it, and possibly regain it.

Kobo in UK

Wow, I just found out (via a TV commercial of all things) that you *can* actually buy Kobo readers in the UK, via WH Smith. I could have saved over a hundred pounds in shipping and import tax (why do we still have import taxes in the third millennium?)!       :-)
I guess I'd gotten too used to the thought that if I can't find something on Amazon UK, it just ain't for sale in this country. It works for 99% of the things I look for, but just occasionally, nope. I guess in this case it's due to it competing with the Kindle. Although you *can* buy the Kobo on Amazon US, so I dunno why it's different.

And WH Smith now has a substantial-looking ebook store, very smart of them.


I guess if I was forced to choose, I'd still go with the Kindle though. Perhaps just for the reason that "nobody ever got fired by buying IBM". Or in other words, safety in the established, the devil you know, and all that jazz.

But it's a close race, the Kobo is very good, it has more typeface and size options and things like that, and it looks and feels good.
The interface might be better though. It only has two buttons, on/off and Home. It would be better with a menu button and such, or at least make it clear on the screen what you have to do to pull up a menu or go where you want to go.

screen candy

There's an odd lack of "screen candy" apps for the iPad, but one I like is Magic Picture. Another one is Magic Window, which also now exists for the Mac.

If anybody knows other apps to make the screen do pretty things when one is not using the iPad, do tell.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What, no Kindle?

This is the first time in years I can remember having seen an Amazon front page without the durn Kindle right in your face!       :-)


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Adobe: Goodbye, Mobile Flash

Adobe: Goodbye, Mobile Flash, article.

Adobe [is] shutting down development of its Flash Player for mobile devices and will instead focus on HTML5.

I hadn't expected such an overt capitulation from Adobe.
You may recall Steve Jobs saying that the reason iPad doesn't run Flash is that they had not yet seen any really good implementation of Flash on any mobile platform. And this new move seems to indicate that Adobe agrees and further does not have hope that they could make one in the foreseeable future.

I think this is a good thing, it means that web developers can concentrate resources on HTML 5, instead of trying to figure out which horse to bet on. And within the next year or two, most major sites will surely move to HTML 5, giving us a much less bumpy web ride.

The Kobo Touch

I've bought a black Kobo Touch via the US. I quite like it, in some ways more than the Kindle. I like the soft rubbery covering for example. And the screen is actually a little bit lighter than the Kindle's. (By the way, I recently learned that there can be pretty big variations in how light or dark Kindle screens are, I had no idea.)  It is compact and light, only 184 grams (Kindle 3 is about 250, the K4 is 160 grams).

Another thing it does well is that unlike the Kindle, it has several different typefaces to choose from, and an almost step-less setting of the text size, that's excellent. You can also set the margins, which is only possible on the Kindle with special software. This is how it should be, I am not sure why the Kindle is so weak on these points, it's not like they don't have the resources to change it!

And oddity though is that the Kobo ebook store, while being praiseworthy for being one of the few to sell outside the US, demands all your data, address etc, every time you buy a book. This is just crazy. I understand that Amazon has a ownership of the one-click concept somehow, but to demand that one fills in *all* the data every time, that's just nuts.



I should also say that it was not exactly cheap to import it. The device was about $150. The shipping was about $70. And the import tax to UK was $120 (£76)! Gulp.
Import taxes are evil and are holding back the global economy, no matter how comfy they seem to the individual country in the short run.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Setting Kindle margins and justification

A plugin, Kindle Collections, for the app calibre allows you to set margins and justification on your Kindle, very useful.

calibre (the author spells it without a capital C) is itself highly useful, although the interface is less than intuitive. For example it will automatically fetch collections of articles from many, many online publications, and put them on your Kindle or iPad (using iBooks) or other device, including linked tables of contents. Pretty amazing.
Even better: one can ask the right people to create a "recipe" to make this work with a favorite online publication.  I did so with The Online Photographer and Luminous Landscape for example.

Note: I have earlier succeeded in changing the margins and justification (from Full to Left) on my Kindle 3, but for some reason it hasn't yet worked with my Kindle 4 (compact model), even with the latest versions of calibre and KC, durn.
Update: it turns out one has to go to the Home page on the Kindle before doing the procedure, after I did that, it worked. (The author told me: Setting the margin or justification doesn't work for all books. Are you testing with the same book?
Have you definitely gone to the home page of the K4 before connecting to your PC and running the plugin?
Have you restarted the K4, not just powered it off?.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Amazon's newest freebies


Amazon Lights the Fire With Free Books, David Pogue article.
Obviously, the notoriously e-terrified book publishers wouldn’t sign off on Amazon’s free-book deal without a lot of reassurance — and a lot of payments. And sure enough, Amazon says that these free Kindle books aren’t really free. It’s paying publishers for the right to distribute them.

That's as expected. But it's the same old story. When radio became popular for real, music publishers fought it with teeth and claws, thinking it would kill record sales. But when they found out how much it actually helped sales instead, they started to pay radio stations to play their records! (I think that's illegal, not sure.) Maybe next year ebook publishers will fight for the right to have a book in Amazon's new free (for Prime members) library, maybe they'll try to bribe Amazon even. But til then, it's the same old scared-cat-hiding-under-the-sofa attitudes, like we always see.

Wing Stand

As an early supporter of WingStand, I got mine in the mail today (plus an extra set as a gift, which will come in handy as a bedsit stand for my iPhone). It's pretty amazing how this thing beats most stands solutions in compactness and usefulness by several horse-lengths.



I put in the video here because their web site, if one only looks briefly, only pushes the WingStand as a keyboard accessory, leading people potentially to believe it won't be for them if they don't own an Apple Wireless Keyboard. But it is equally useful as a simple stand for almost any phone or tablet (without a case).

Admittedly, laterally it's not the most stable in the world if used without the keyboard, it can be knocked over if, say, the table is bumped hard. But I don't think it's a real problem, and it's a fair tradeoff for the size of it.

Old book smell

[Thanks to FWR]


Ebooks – Glossary of Terms


Ebooks – Glossary of Terms, concise, but useful post

Kindle tip: use a big font

I still don't like the grey background on the Kindle, but I've found out something which helps a lot:

Use a big font. 

I've tried reading on the Kindle 4 (the new really compact one) with a text size which is two or three sizes bigger than I'd normally use on a brighter screen. That is a very big difference in size. But it does make a lot of difference in eye comfort, and I find I stick much longer with reading on the Kindle this way. 
The one caveat is that you have to be able to hold the Kindle in a way so you don't have to change the hold every time you flip the page, otherwise that becomes a bother. 

I'd like to thank Darlene, wife of Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles. Len once told about how she likes to use a big font* and flip through the pages fast. (With the earlier Kindles which made audible clicks, this could bother bedroom mates, but the K4 is silent.) 

In an early show, Len interviewed Darlene when she unpacked her first Kindle, and when he saw what kind of text size she preferred, he said: "that's a font for old people". Then there was a pause where I could almost feel Darlene's eyes burning through my iPod, and then he quickly added: "that's a nice font, good choice". 

Len himself prefers to keep the font size limited, he states that he likes to keep a few sizes in reserve for as he gets older and his eyes get worse. But heck, I wouldn't let that stand in my way, for one thing there are still a couple sizes to go up from the one I'm trying now, and for another there'll surely be future advances in screen technology and in laser surgery.       :-)   And I'd guess that not stressing your eyes will not make them deteriorate faster. 



*I know I'm using "text size" and "font" interchangeably, but really traditionally, a 9-point Times is a different font than a 10-point Times, because originally they would come in different boxes, little physical lead letters to be put in boxes for printing. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OCR from iPhone

Last time I had to quote some text from a book, I laboriously typed it in. But next time I'll use OCR (optical character recognition) via my iPhone. There are several apps for it, I tried "Image To Text - OCR", and it works well, as well as any desktop OCR I've tried (OK, that's years ago).
This might be quite handy.
The photo, taken on my iPhone, was taken by the light of a desktop lamp, me hand-holding both the book and the camera/phone, so hardly the most ideal conditions, and the photo of course is not darn sharp. Yet there are only a few errors.


Here's the uncorrected text I got from the app:

RULE #2
More about
Protecting Your Wealth
The 1970s and 1980s brought us well-publicized stories of wealthy people who went broke or who lost most of what they had.
Businessman and politician John Connolly, renowned for his "insider's" ability to make money, one day found that he had to sell his most precious personal possessions at auction To the best of my knowledge, years later he still hadn't been able to return to his previous lifestyle. The Hunt Brothers inherited a fortune from their father's oil and food industry successes. But they lost hundreds of mil- lions of dollars speculating in silver and oil in the early 1980s, and I've seen no news that they've been able to earn it back Actress Doris Day lost most of what she had when she discovered that her late husband had squandered their money on bad investments. She was able to recover part of what had been lost, but only through a long series of exhausting laW- SUIt*
Of course, these people aren't you. And it s easy to beJieve you won't make the same mistakes they did. That's true You probably won't. But that doesn't mean you won't make any mistakes There are no books Wg«W to acquaint you with every possible hazard of trusting *°mr 


(The book is Fail-Safe Investing, recommended.)

"Art Escapes" ebook format comparisons

I just found out an old favorite book is now out in ebook format: Art Escapes by Dory Kanter. (US link.)


It pays off to shop around, perhaps even more so with ebooks than anything else (since an ebook can technically be sold at a profit at almost any price). I bought this book at an impulse at the Google Ebook Store for £15.44. Then I read Dory's newsletter which I'd just gotten in the email, and found out the book is out in all the ebook stores, including Kindle, which normally has not featured many graphically rich books. So I checked with Amazon, and there I could buy it for £6.31! (In the US Amazon store it is $10.18) (What's with all the small fractions? How do they decide between 10.18 and 10.19?)

But it is interesting to compare the formats though. The Google format (PDF) is used here to show the whole page from the paper book as a unit. Whereas the Kindle format is chopped up in bits of text and graphics, so it will show better on small screens like the Kindle (or for that matter the Kindle Fire).

I would say the Kindle format is easier to read, and if the reader uses a small screen an ebook format like that is far superior, sometimes necessary. You can set the text size to fit your eyes and mood.  But if one uses an iPad, the PDF full-page format is much more fun to look at, and one gets the full aesthetic impact of the writer's and designer's intentions. (The downside at the moment being that for some reason the Google Ebooks app won't zoom into the pages for easier reading, a big flunk. I hope that gets fixed soon. Their Mac app does it, so they know it can be done...)

Here are samples from this book in the Kindle version and the Google PDF version so you can compare. (Obviously they are both viewed on an iPad.)

Kindle-formatted page (I've used the Sepia view here): 

PDF format:  


Another set:

Kindle-format: 

PDF page: 


I don't mean to imply that this is the only way these formats can be used, of course the ebook designer has a lot of decisions to make. But I think these are typical and show the pros and cons well.

It should be added that with "ePub 3", and Apple's "fixed-page ePub" format, and now with the new Kindle Format 8, full, rich pages are clearly destined to become more common on all the major platforms. I don't know how they will decide how to sell a Kindle book, if a single file will have versions for small kindles as well as for large screens or what, that will be interesting to see.

For further comparison, here is how it looks on the Kindle device itself, in photo and screenshot. (Of course the screenshots show it in clear black-and-white, like I wish the screen itself did.      :-) Apart from no colors, it's actually not a bad experience.




Monday, October 31, 2011

How TidBITS Makes EPUBs in Pages

How Take Control Makes EPUBs in Pages, article.
[Take Control is the ebook arm of TidBITS. Pages is a desktop publishing app by Apple. ePub is a dominant ebook format.]

Wow, cool, I had just mentioned this company and the process in a post. Great that they make an article about this, who else would do such a thing? I mean that literally, I can't think of anybody else.

I love writing like this. Written not for programmers, and neither for the maaaaahhhses, but for the intelligent layman who wants to know more about how things work.

The article for example has some explanation of the differences between the basic formats like PDF and ePub, something we touched upon recently here.
In part:
In a sense, PDFs live at the intersection of print and pixel: an onscreen PDF (such as a Take Control book) should look exactly like a printed version of the document, with the same fonts, colors, and layout characteristics, including the same pagination.
The EPUB format, on the other hand, was designed to present documents in a readable way on portable digital devices, allowing the EPUB reading software to adjust the layout and appearance of an onscreen document to conform to the characteristics of the device on which it is read.

The article also gives a good impression of the complexity of ebook conversion, like we've discussed in the past week.

And it reminded me to try out the Firefox ePub Reader plugin, which is kewl, for instance for reading ePub books on laptops or netbooks. (Amazing really that the Standard ebook format has so little software to read it on desktop/laptop computers. It's a weird world.) The plugin has very good programming, it has clickable chapter headings in a sidebar, and in wide windows it makes more than one column! Excellent thinking.

As an armchair designer and an art lover, I do admire a beautifully designed page. But I must admit that as a reader of middle age, I also do appreciate formats like ePub, where the reader can set the font and size (and sometimes colors) to make the reading experience as pleasant as possible. I have a hardcover book on marketing which I could never read, because it's a big book and set in a telephone-book-like text size. Later I got the iPad and found the book as ebook, what a pleasure!

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs


[Thanks to TCGirl]

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs, NYT article.

Even if you're tired of Steve Jobs coverage, this one is recommended. It shows tonnes of stuff about his human side that we have never heard before. A very beautiful eulogy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Note re my TKC interview

I was flattered to hear that the Kindle Chronicles' interview with myself is amongst favorites. This is particularly pleasing since that podcast is well known for having many interviews with highly qualified and well spoken guests (like this week it is the editor of Amazon's Kindle Singles program). So I'd honestly only dared hope that my own would sort of hang in there and not be too embarrassing in comparison.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ebook publishing is way too complex

It is breaking my heart, my nuts, and my brains that ebook publishing and even just ebook creation is so damn complex.

I've been listening to a nice podcast called Ebook Ninjas, and it's getting very clear that there are just no reliable and simple ways to convert a book (unless it's a dead simple book with no tables, graphics, etc) to the various ebook formats. There are apps which can make attempts, but it seems you always have to know the code (HTML basically) and get in there and mess with it, in order to get a professional looking ebook produced.

It is just so typical of this messed up world. There are millions of readers wanting to buy ebooks, there are hundreds of thousands of authors wanting to write them, make them and sell them, and there are tens of thousands of publishers wanting to publish them. And yet nobody has yet come up with a system which a normal person can learn to use easily.

It really should not be so difficult. We have had e-commerce for fifteen years at least, we have had publishing for centuries, we have had book formatting for as long, electronically for decades, and digital and conversions for many years. What is taking so long?

The only simple way I know is to take your book, if you have a Mac, select "print", and "print" a PDF file. This I admit is really amazingly simple, and it's totally cross-platform. And then sell the book on Lulu or just via Paypal.

But it does not work well with the small screens of Kindle and such readers, which is a huge hole in the method, to say the least. Maybe the problem is that Apple has shown no big interest in ebooks*, and Apple is the only company who has had real success in making things simple to use. One suspects that making things simple is the most complex thing of all.

Update: Bruce said:
I agree, what Pagemaker did for DTP, what PageMill did for HTML, has not been done for ebooks yet. However...
Numbers, by Apple, does have a save to epub option. Simple, but I don't know how well it works.
From MS Word it looks like the best option is save to HTML (use option of "filtered" on PC or "display" on Mac) and import to calibre. Calibre itself is complicated, but does offer lots of control and many file types to save and convert documents to. 

Yes, and I hear Pages saves to ePub now, and it's good enough that TidBITS uses it, so it must be pretty good (their books are complex enough that they don't publish in Kindle format, I think. [See below]) (They can get away with this because they publish technical how-to books with an Apple slant, so if a reader wants the books on an ereader, he probably has an iPad.)
Update: I asked Adam Engst from TidBITS about this, and he says:

[Apple] Pages does produce reasonable EPUBs, and we don't hand tweak them after the fact. We could run the EPUBs through the command-line kindlegen program from Amazon to turn them into Mobi files, but there were problems when we did that, so we have O'Reilly's conversion house do the conversions still. So our books are available in Mobi format, but it's nowhere near as good as the EPUB.


Unfortunately then there's the split between the "universal format" ePub and the actual best-selling format, the proprietary Kindle format. Generally you can't ignore the latter if you want to sell, sadly. (And of course many want copy-protection, which splinters ePub into many groups.)



*I wonder why Steve Jobs seemed so dismissive of reading. ("People don't read anymore.") I can't imagine he was not a reader himself, and in most aspects Apple seems to mirror Jobs' mind. Maybe he was really only intensely interested in making products which "everybody" would potentially use?
If so, that's notable. Sort of noble in itself, I guess. But on the other hand, many worthwhile activities are really only enjoyed by minorities, like fine art or, indeed, serious reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Adobe Digital Editions, and DRM

It seems the Google ebook store (which I otherwise liked because unlike any other ebook store I'm aware of, it has a good presence of graphically rich books), uses Adobe Digital Editions. I think it's unfortunate. I hear the format has not been updated in over four years. And the app is just generally a pain to use. For example, if you refuse to update the app when there is a new version available, the app quits!*
Worse, it is so draconian about Digital Rights Management that it does not even allow local storage of a book! This means it just stores a tiny 4k reference file, and you have to download the book every time you want to read it! If you're offline, you're f***ed.

It seems though that ADE is the standard option for DRM for PDF files. Meaning there's no good way.  I hope that ebooks will go the way of music, into non-protected files. So far though the trend in that direction is virtually non-existent, so I'm not optimistic about it happening any time soon. It seems the book publishing industry is way more conservative than the music industry, for some reason. (If I'd been asked to guess in the past, I'd actually have guessed it opposite.) But then ebooks are the better part of a decade behind music in digitalization, so...


*And it does not even actually update when I click Update. Right now I'm trying to install the app again, but of course Adobe insists on downloading an "installer" first, and of course that download stalls, and I get a message that the "signature" is wrong, whatever that is.  I hate Adobe installation and upgrade procedures, one way or another it's usually made into a nightmare.

Mild in our method



Vigorous let us be in attaining our ends, and mild in our method of attainment.
           -- Lord Newborough, Motto

Funny I should fall over this quote, just as I've been marvelling all morning, reading the Steve Jobs book, about how rude the man often was.

I have huge respect for his taste and ideals and accomplishments, but I find it hard to respect his personality. He would always view and treat people as either Gods or Shit, nothing in between, and even the "gods" would live in constant fear of his famous and frequent changes of mind. "This is shit" was a common comment when seeing something he didn't like or understand, regardless of how much or how little data he had about it yet.
  
When he had recruited the affable Andy Hertzfeld to the Macintosh team, Andy wanted a few days to round off his current Apple II work so he could hand it over smoothly. Jobs insisted that working on the Mac was infinitely more important, and he actually ripped out the power plug to Andy's computer in the middle of Andy's work, and virtually pulled him away. To me, such behavior is simply inexcusable, and would be even if it resulted in the best results. But I don't think it even does that, because you always have to work with people, and if you habitually offend people, it throws gravel in the gears of the machinery. 

A person should respect differing viewpoints, and a person should be able to control his feelings instead of letting them spill all over the landscape wherever he goes, to no aim. I think doing this is simply immature, no matter one's status. 
I also think that the binary, black-or-white matter of seeing everything is immature, though perhaps this is more on a spiritual development scale than a human scale, seeing as how many outstanding humans have such a mentality all their lives. 

While I'm insulting kings (in the name of learning) I think Jobs also wasted great amounts of time and energy on details which actually didn't matter.  He went "into the opposite ditch" to use a Danish expression. One ditch is releasing a product with obvious flaws, or making products without a feeling of aesthetics or pride or quality. And the opposite ditch is, like Jobs did in just one example, not being satisfied with any of the 2,000 shades of beige in the Pantone catalogue for the Apple II's case, and wanting to make a new one for it. That's just borderline insanity. One of the most important mental attributes a person can have is a good judgement of the importance of a datum or decision. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

iPhone 4S dictation

Something I hadn't heard: on iPhone 4S, the screen keyboard has a little microphone key, which takes dictation. You tap it, talk a sentence or more, tap Stop, and it sends it to a server which sends back text.
I am still getting about two errors in every sentence, so that's crap, but it seems to work well for many, and if and when it does, it's very cool. You could dictate not only emails, but the next big vampire romance novel if you want, talked into the iPhone version of Pages.
It's irritating, normally tech works well for me, but it appears that my Danish accent is a serious barrier for dictation software. Durnit.

Introducing Kobo Vox

We now have three Android 7-inch tablets sold as e-reader devices Nook Color, Kindle Fire, and now Kobo Vox. They are all very similar, hardware-wise. Kobo is the most open one, giving access to other stores than Kobo's own, and having the Android Market right out in the open.
I like the Kobos for the soft material on the back, making holding it easier, something nobody else gives much thought to.
Like the Nook, Kobo is USA-only. I suspect it's a bitch to get the rights in various countries, only Amazon so far has made much inroads.



I think none of them will let anybody from outside USA buy media on the tablet. But I'm hoping that the Kindle Fire will at least let the Kindle app read my books, and let the browser and such work normally, that'd cover my use pretty well. If I want to buy books from the device I can probably do it in the browser like normally, from the UK Kindle ebook store (I don't think it handles video/music yet though, but I use iTunes for that anyway.)

Siri no hablo ingles

Just got my iPhone 4S. In brief testing of Siri, my scepticism has not been disproven yet. So far it has understood less than one in five of commands I tried, and twice it started to dial a phone number when I had not asked for it. (Once I'd asked for location and once I was trying to begin an email.)

Like with the grayness of e-ink backgrounds, I am beginning to suspect it is only a problem for me, and hardly anybody else, since I haven't been able to get any voice operating or dictation system to work well for me in the past. It's irritating for me, but bully for others if it works for them.

Timo found this one, which is not so far from my experiences:



Update:
OK, this is weird. When I finally found the Siri settings (tucked in under "general"), it turned out that the durn thing was turned off by default! Seems I had the old "voice control" (which I'd never used.)  Now that I've turned it on, things may be different.
To compound matters, location control was *also* turned off for Siri by default (though I had it turned on for other services), and wifi was turned off by default, I'd have thought it would ask me to turn it on.

"Send an email to Judith"
"... sending email to Judith... Sorry, something is wrong, I can't do that." 
"What is wrong?"
"Wrong: noun: that which is contrary to the principles of justice or law." 

... very helpful.

A historic event?

This is from Apple's delivery tracking page. I find it totally hil that they label the delivery date as a "historic event".


Monday, October 24, 2011

iRiver Story HD reader, short review



One out of five stars
European buyers beware.  


Sorry, The iRiver Story HD reader is one of the lamest purchases I've ever made. I'd been looking forward to getting a Google Book Store dedicated reader (got interested here), but...

Apart from the very nice 16-tone high rez screen (which Amazon should have looked at) (black on grey like other e-ink screens, but sharper), it's clunky. The design and interface are just not good, see this review. One example: an Enter button should be large and clearly set off from other buttons. And preferably it should be set in the middle between the four-way controller (making it a five-way controller), not off to the side. This kind of thing really should be obvious.

But what kills me is:
1) In Europe/UK, the price is twice what it is in the US. (200 Euros/$280 versus $140.
2) And for what? For half the functionality. I spent so much time trying to find out why the durn thing couldn't connect to the Google ebook Store like I'd read about. Then I started suspecting that the functionality had been removed. And it has! It doesn't even have any wifi system at all! And this is despite Google eBook Store actually now having a UK department.

It won't even read ebooks that I've bought on the UK Google Store site and side-loaded onto the device. The files don't even show up in the booklist on the device. (I'm beginning to suspect that only Kindle and iPad will let us buy books outside the US.)

I tried side-loading a bunch of different PDF and ePub documents to the Story: not so joyful, in three out of four cases I just got: "can't open document".

In short about the iRiver Story HD:
US customers: read some reviews, it might be for you or not.
European customers: avoid. It's twice the price, for a crippled product with interface problems..