Friday, July 22, 2011

What's an ePub?

BBEdit 10 Improves UI, HTML Markup, and EPUB Editing, article.

Now, this article's subject is really too geeky for me. I figure if I don't mess with code, code won't mess with me. But one detail caught my attention:
[...] EPUB files, which are Zip-compressed collections of HTML and CSS files, along with a few other text-based support files and any necessary graphics and multimedia files.

I sure didn't know that. Interesting. So ePub is not really a new or separate ebook format, it's just web/HTML code tied together in a compressed bundle with formatting, graphics and such, to make  a book. Not a bad idea.

It's nice to know the basic definitions of things, and they are often ignored.
One day I was sitting in a small, mixed group of people, we was talking about painting, and I mentioned guache paint, and parenthetically threw in that this is simply opaque watercolor. One older guy was highly delighted to get this factoid, he'd been hearing the term slung about for decades, but nobody had ever defined it for him!

Apple’s Cash Hoard Exceeds GDP of 128 Countries

Apple’s Cash Hoard Exceeds GDP of 128 Countries, article.
Apple has more than US$76.2 billion in cash as of the June quarter, and The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that this was more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of 128 countries, according to data from the World Bank that we verified. [...] 
There are a myriad of other reasons making the comparison stupid, at its worst, and inappropriate at best, but it is fun, and many may even find it sobering.

Holeeeeeh sheeeet!

It reminds me that guys like William Gibson have been talking about for many years how power is moving from the old artificial entity of countries, to the new, arguably less artificial one of corporations.
Gibson talked about how he'd become less cynical over the years, since corporations want to keep their customers alive and healthy for their business.
And I had to agree. If you look at world history, the trend of countries/governments have been to sooner or later wipe out not only other peoples, but even their own people. So why it's hard to like corporations, I actually think we might feel safer with them in power.

Some people feel that there is something innately immoral in extreme wealth. But then I also heard a very good argument: that the economic miracle of the western world, even more than the industrial revolution, is due to law and order overtaking the feudal system, meaning that if you got rich, you stood a good chance of keeping it! Before that, why would anybody bother to make an effort?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New MacBook Air

I love my MacBook Air, it's a very impressive machine. And I think I heard the model is Apple's best-selling computer? Also impressive.
Anyway, just updated. Underlighted keyboard, "Thunderbolt" port (for storage and displays), faster chip... (and the "old" one is no slouch).
The only problem is choosing between an iPad and an Air. Well, if you have the coin you can just have both, but which one do you bring each time? Ah, life is hard!

For many years, I dreamed of Apple making a super-compact portable. For a while they came through with the 12-inch MacBook Pro, and I had that and liked it a lot, but then that disappeared and I cursed the air blue. But then a promising, but too-expensive and a bit slow prospect came with the original MacBook Air a couple of years ago. But now with the much cheaper, faster, and lighter 11- and 13-inch models, I think I can say Apple has truly delivered.

Some say I sound like a fanboy. So what? I don't see what's wrong with giving praise where praise is due. Should I be inventing flaws to sound impartial? Should I suppress my enthusiasm for excellent products to fit curmudgeons' views? I don't thiiink so, life is too short.

The Fabulous Transformation of Apple’s MacBook Air, article.

Recent benchmarks show that the new MBAs are as fast or faster than a 2010, 2.67 GHz 17-inch MacBook Pro. It’s now a machine to lust for by everyone.
As a result of all this, a Mac that was considered an expensive, limited business toy in 2008 has become a mainstream Mac, flying off the shelves in 2011. It’s been a remarkable transition.

... the article has some interesting observations about the Amazing Missing Optical Drive, et al.

Ambling, an audio player

I've been writing before about one of my gripes of audiobook-players, in my case meaning iPods: they are hard to get to skip just a little bit back if you miss a few words. So I have impulsively bought Ambling AudioPlayer Pro, which has a one minute skip back or forth, and a 15-second ditto. Wonderful.
There's a free version which has most of the features.

Update: maybe I was a bit hasty: so far the interface seems to be a nightmare. You can't just import a list of books from the iPod app, you have to import one book at a time, nay, one *part* of a book at a time, through an opague steps of six or seven parts, and it took me five tries to even find out where in the procedure the adding actually took part so the book was saved! What a pity. (Also it doesn't have an iPad native interface.) 
... And now it simply does not react to the play button! This may be the worst iOS interface I've tried. I even paid ten bucks for this, damn my trusting and impulsive nature!      :-)

[Earlier bit about the classic iPods with buttons]: I like the physical buttons, for eye-free operations.
By the way, repeating a trick from a reader: holding down the left- or right- arrows (parts of the ring) on an iPod Classic or Nano will scroll in the song/book. Just be careful not to slip, so it sends you back a whole chapter!
For longer navigation, press the button in the middle til it shows a pointer on the time line, then circle until the counter is right.

"Writing Kit"

I have been wanting an app for writing "Markdown", a simple formatting system for writers. I suspect I've found it in Writing Kit.

We still don't have the ideal ereader

It ain't heavy, it's my e-reader: a review of the Nook Color, review.

I found this while looking up the weight of the Nook Color.
I do most of my reading on my iPad on a book-stand. I love this. Best of both worlds. But I tend to zip back and forth between many books, articles and videos, so sometimes a book can slip into the background even though I'd intended to to read it soon.
So I am experimenting with using more than one ereader, one of them dedicated to the current top book. So I tried out:

The Kindle 3: Wonderful size and weight. But the grey screen needs much more lamp light than I like. Some people say backlit screens strain their eyes. But for me, a grey (not white or light-grey) screen is a worse strain for mine.

The iPhone 4: Actually surprisingly good. The screen is amazing. But still it's not meant to be an ereader, it's small and you have to flip pages often.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab: my current choice. It's very good, especially after I pasted rubber pads on the back.

I don't have the Nook Color, but I decided to forget about it after I found out via the review at the top that it's actually heavier than the Galaxy Tab.

My ideal is the Galaxy Tab (or a similar iOS device), but with the high screen resolution of the iPhone 4 (or roughly in the neighborhood), and a bit thinner, and maybe 200 grams lighter. And easier to hold without dropping or touching the touch-screen or buttons by accident. Ribbed rubber backing, and a re-think of how hard you have to touch a button might do it. (For something you have to hand-hold, I think it's best for a button to only react to a distinct press, not the mere presence of a hand.)

Sadly it seems that Apple has decided that the sizes in-between an iPhone and an iPad 2 is not good for much, except a dedicated ereader, and I don't think they'll make something that "limited". (Single-digit millions sales are probably "limited" in Apple's world.) But maybe Amazon will do something interesting soon, the world is holding its breath.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google reader device review

Google reader device review.

Apparently it is called an "iRiver Story HD". What sounds great is higher screen resolution. XGA (768 x 1024 pixels) on a six-inch screen is good*. But (I almost said "typically") then this is ruined by poor contrast at most font size settings.
Also it has only one font. I don't get it, these displays can show anything you can throw at them, why limit the "choice" to one font?  Different people have different eyes and different reading histories, some find greater readability with sans-serif fonts, some with serif fonts, and some (those with editing-experience) even with mono-width fonts (like Courier). Personally, my two favorite fonts for screen reading were designed for the purpose: Verdana (sans-serif) and Georgia (serif). (As you may know, "serifs" are the small lines which sit at the end of each line in the letters in Times, but not in Helvetica.) (The Kindle 3 has an unnamed serif font, and an unnamed sans-serif font. Better, but hardly a bonanza of choice.)

*My first monitor was an Apple 17-inch monitor in 1995. But due to a connection error (it was supposed to be connected through the keyboard), it could only display minimum rez, 480 x 640 pixels. I gleefully used that for half a year, and only found out when I upgraded the video RAM. I think after that it could show XGA like this ereader. Man, those must have been some rough pixels I was using for a while there!  But ignorance is bliss.

Ereaders exploding now

About 12% of Americans now own a Kindle or other ereader device (discounting tablets). And the number has doubled in just the last half year! That's astounding, that's a historical shift right in front of our noses.

On the other hand, maybe it's just a fad. Like the Internet.

The Kindle 4 Will Be Released within 10 Weeks

The Kindle 4 Will Be Released within 10 Weeks, post.

It seems, fortunately, that Amazon will go the way I've been pushing for, for a long time: to keep developing the cheap black/white Kindle line with a Kindle 4, while making a new color tablet (Android) line, named differently, with many more capabilities, but focused on reading and on direct buying of the online content Amazon offers: ebooks, music, movies, etc. They are the only ones who can compete with Apple in such a strong eco-system of content, and if the tablet comes in at a good price, and I'm sure it will, it will be a very big hit, probably the only one for a couple of years to really push the iPad!

On the picture is the Kindle 3, or the "Kindle" as Amazon calls it, refusing to acknowledge any development apparently. I love that they finally realized that the frame has to be dark. And I love the size and weight. Only thing I don't like is the too-dark grey screen. (And OK, it could be faster yet, and the whole interface could be more nimble and intuitive.) I am hoping that in the next generation, the right areas are developed without sacrificing anything significant. The issue is that apparently e-ink is not ready yet to come closer to white, soooo I dunno.

Tablet Strives to Plug Into Laptops' Port Abilities

Tablet Strives to Plug Into Laptops' Port Abilities, article and video.
Unlike other well-known tablets on the market, the new Toshiba Thrive, a 10-inch Android model available this month, sports a full-sized USB port that works with a wide variety of devices and files; a removable battery; and a file manager application like those on PCs. It also includes a full-sized SD slot for flash memory cards and a full-sized connector, called an HDMI port, that can use a standard cable for linking to a high-definition TV.

Timely article, since reader TCGirl just asked us why those durn tablets don't have simple USB ports. I have no good answers, except to guess the main reason must be space. The cost of a USB port can't be a great issue these days. Any well-informed reader is welcome to enlighten us.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Analysts: Android & Windows 8 Tablets to Magically Catch iPad

Analysts: Android & Windows 8 Tablets to Magically Catch iPad, article.
On the other hand, there are some analysts who don’t understand Apple. At all. The Mac Observer’s Apple Death Knell Counter is littered with them, and much of my living over the last 13 years has been made by calling them out and explaining why they are wrong.

I love seeing Bryan blow his stack over dumb analysts.       :-)

When reason fails, force may help

[Thanks to Dave]