Tag Archives: technology

Thoughts on my Kindle

I like to read. I’m not saying I’m some kind of über prolific reader, but I do get through one or two books a month, although I like essays, short stories, novellas and such as well. So what I wanted then, was an e-reader to buy books to, which would allow me to drop things in to it from gutenberg.org and other public domain locations, then also white papers and other lengthy pieces of text from the net.

I’ve been eyeing the Kindle for a couple of years, but between the form factor and mainly the price, I hadn’t gone for it, but with the 3rd generation model having a wi-fi only model available, and the then high on the yen vs. dollar exchange rate, I thought it might be time to bite, so I ordered, it shipped, and now I’ve been using it for almost a couple of months.

Out of the box, the device is well packaged, and it simply powers on and works. It’s a good first experience.

I’ll be honest though, it’d didn’t work straight away with the WPA2 wireless in my house based out of an old Apple Airport Express access point. It really didn’t seem to want to try, so I looked at the Kindle Forums, and though people were helpful, the tech level there is as you might expect for a general customer device perhaps – it’s addressed some issues, but some of the reasoning is a little off target – there’s a lot of misunderstanding amongst posters, and attempted clarification by helpers on what WEP is and isn’t, what the SSID is and isn’t, what the password is and isn’t and what are your wireless access point details, and what are your ISP router details. At least they’re polite.

I also tried calling Kindle support, and to be fair, their response was what they promised – I entered my number, and a few minutes later, they called me back. I have to say though, I put in a Japan number, but the response was in English and I don’t think the person had any Japanese language skills, so I don’t know what kind of support a Japanese only speaker would get. (Also, the Kindle itself came set to English with no Japanese instructions, though the cover does have Japanese instructions.)

Anyway, I did get it working, and I’ve put the troubleshooting part of that at the bottom, so we can talk a bit more about the device itself now.

Overall, it’s excellent. The readability is very good – it’s not black and white, but a pulp grey and black, and honestly, with a few pages, I forgot I was using an electronic device. I actually caught myself trying to look at the top of the Kindle to see how far through the book I was. It really is as immersive as a book as far as I’m concerned. The Kindle does helpfully tell you what percentage you have read at the bottom of the screen in place of page numbers which obviously aren’t valid as you might alter the font size and so on, and there all the note and bookmark options you’ll need.

The UI is still a bit odd though. You can make folders, lets say ‘Thrillers’ and place certain novels and stories into it. Great. Except they still show in the main listing as well, which for me means it’s already getting quite cluttered, and I’d like to have all my sci-fi together, my comedy together and reference works together. I’m half thinking I’m missing something on this.

I commute to work on a busy train, and even in it’s leather cover I had no problem holding the Kindle for an hour at a time into work, though they’re not that common in Tokyo, so it did get a few second glances.

Some other notes on the physical device: the battery does last as long as it says – at least four weeks with wi-fi off, and a built in memory capacity of ~ 3GB which I think will be enough for now.

Getting works on to the device and into that memory is interesting. When you enable the device on Amazon.com, you get an e-mail address to which you can e-mail acceptable formats and when you connect via wi-fi, it’ll connect to that address and download the works you’ve sent. This is also the way you get the stories you can buy on Amazon itself, delivered wirelessly via the ‘WhisperNet’. You can also connect the device to your PC/Mac and it shows as a mass storage device on the desktop so you can copy files on to it directly. This is all fine, but for many, knowing what’ll work and what wont is a bit hit n miss, and I might not want to use this clunky desktop approach.

One app I’ve been using to get around this is Calibre, which converts files between formats like ePub (which the Kindle doesn’t support but which is popular), text and so on to the .mobi format Amazon does support. It’ll also e-mail the file to your Kindle account for download. Why doesn’t Amazon offer this functionality in it’s Kindle for Mac/PC app?

Buying an e-book from Amazon is pure simplicity. I bought ‘Daemon‘ by Daniel Suarez and once purchased it really was just pushed down to my device and I could read it within seconds. Excellent. One disappointing note is that many Kindle books are a bit overpriced in my humble opinion – most are paperback price, some are hardback price (like ‘Freedom TM’, the sequel to Daemon, at the time of writing).

Really? For a file which saves Amazon and the publisher all the physical media and shipping? If you look at the tags on many books, people have tagged them as expensive Kindle versions. This is a real shame at this stage of adoption.

Basically then, it’s an iPod for reading, which is what these things were always meant to be; certainly it’s web browser works, but I don’t see much point for it. Some people on the forums slammed it because for some reason they thought they were getting a 140USD iPad. It’s not an iPad. It’s a book reader, and for that it’s excellent. You can also listen to audio books if you like too, which is no surprise since the leader in that market is the Amazon owned Audible.

Overall, I’m really pleased with this purchase, and the Amazon case I got for it. It gets taken a lot of places, and I’ve already read a lot on it, and I can see it being excellent for trips. Again, if you want something to read books on, get a Kindle. If you have more cash and want a media device and maybe read something, then get an iPad I suppose, though I emphasise, reading for long periods I’m told by friends is not as good an experience. I see this Kindle as being something I’ll actually use more than I expected, and that’s always the sign of a good purchase.

The technical bit

Just to cover my out of the box lack of wi-fi activation. So it couldn’t see my SSID, and when I manually entered the details it said it just couldn’t connect. Allegedly being at least somewhat tech savvy, I decided to give it a try from first principles, but I wanted to see where official support channels would get the average user, that is, if my parents had this issue. Firstly, the forums; as I said they are good people, perhaps not overly technical, but definitely keen, but no real answers unfortunately. I called Amazon’s Kindle support line.

The person went through their script and was very polite, but their bottom line suggestion was to go to McDonalds, to a totally open wi-fi hotspot, register/activate the device and then it might work on my home network. There is a McDonalds down the road, but honestly, I wasn’t drunk (my usual requirement to duck under the golden arches) and since I have full control of my wireless system, and consider myself somewhat technical,  I decided to give it a crack. So, I dropped everything to make my system a hotspot and set my Apple Airport Express to factory default – it worked fine. I don’t recommend having anything else on your wi-fi if you do that – it’s not very safe.

I then started ‘rebuilding’ the security – put WPA2 on, made a few other minor changes like the channel, and every was fine. I didn’t get it, then I changed one last setting back to how it had been before: “Connection Sharing” – factory default is to ‘Share a Public IP Address’ whereas I had it set to “Off – Bridge Mode” and sure enough changing that kills my Kindle’s ability to connect to the wireless, no matter what anything else is set to. I honestly have no idea why, and since the box is ~six years old and discontinued I doubt it’s a big thing in the market. I do wonder if anyone can replicate this though.

My TechNet at Home

Recently I just paid ~21,000yen for a one year MS TechNet Standard subscription for myself, for usage at home.

I’m not at all sure if this is common or whether people still think Technet is just for business – or even if many people have even heard of it. Essentially though, this gets me access to most MS OSs and their variants (32-/64- bit, languages etc.) e.g. XP, Vista, Windows 7 and several server versions. It also allows me to use various versions of Office and other applications. There are restrictions: they have to be my PCs, and for non commercial usage and so on. That works for me.

I actually had several reasons for paying for this, so I just wanted to go over them here.
Firstly, I ama tech person; I use computers a lot. Whilst I use a Mac and Linux, I also use Windows a lot for various things, and I build my own desktops, so I don’t buy PCs with Windows pre-installed. I therefore want to use the latest OSs and play with different applications. I’m also a user of the less famous Office apps like Visio and Project, and they’re included with TechNet Standard which is nice. It also means I can try out various servers like SQL servers in virtual machines for edification.

Another of my niche requirements, is because I live in Japan, which affects me in two ways; firstly, I want a PC which can run in Japanese and English mode at OS and application level. Mac and Linux do this out of the box, but for some reason, Microsoft elects to achieve this via multi user interfaces, MUIs, which are separate downloads from the base OS.

In Windows 7, these are at least available from the Windows Update window, but only on select versions, and for consumers, that’s essentially Windows 7 Ultimate, which carries a retail price of ~230 USD. That’s a lot. In fact, it pays for the technet subscription on its own, and that’s before we allow ~400 USD for Office, or even 100 USD for the Home version if I forget Visio and Project.

There’s then the issue of if I buy a laptop here in Japan – most don’t come with English OS options, though some can be configured with an English keyboard – sorry Japan keyboard fans, I love a big spacebar. So then, I’d be looking at at least a copy of Home Premium at ~ 140 USD.

So for straight economics, it’s a winning solution really, even if only on the OS side, with all the Office apps being a bonus. For the tech side, it really allows me to keep up to date on the Microsoft world, and from a practicality point of view it still works because it allows me to solve all the problems I have with my rather niche situation. (I should point out you actually get ten full license for each version of each OS/application).

I found out about this from Paul Thurott’s Supersite for Windows, and his Windows Weekly podcast, and as far as I can tell, there’s no real downside – even if I don’t continue my subscription (which drops to 150 USD in future years), the software continues to work, I just can’t re-download the .iso files.

Hope this is of value to others.

New graphics card – ATI HD 5750

Hey, don’t fall asleep!

Minor update to my setup – I added an ATI 5750 graphics card – cost about 11,000yen – basically to just to speed up WIndows 7 and play games, even old ones, at 1920*1080 like Darwinia and Far Cry with all the effects on – the old 4350 HTPC card really couldn’t do that. I got the Kuroutoshikou card with an Arctic Cooling fan on it. Very quiet and great results.

Linux / Windows

CPU: Athlon II 250 , 4GB DDR3 RAM, ASRock M3A785GMH mobo, Kuroutoshikou ATI HD 5750, Enermax fans, and Antec Earthwatts 430 PSU. 320GB Seagate HDD + 2 * 1TB Western Digital Green eSATA drives for archives. OS: Fedora 13 (64bit).

Cutover to WordPress.com / Google

After humming and harring over what to do with my websites I’ve decided to move them over here to WordPress.com.

Basically my issues were these: I don’t have time to write a lot nowadays, and $20USD a month for hosting service – albeit a good one – just seemed a bit of a waste, and Pair, who I’ve always had good service from, didn’t really have a cheaper plan with MySQL backends. Also, because of this lack of time, tracking and implementing updates to two CMSs required more time than my meagre geek allotment allowed, and time I should be writing.

So I needed to find a solution which allowed me free/cheaper backend hosting, and if possible, I could move my e-mail over to. In the end, I decided to mothball brightblack.net finally, but leave the content up, and just work on nanikore.net; this wasn’t related to my immediate question, but it seems like a good time to address these things. The email question I’d been thinking about for a while, and was decided upon when I found that WordPress.com supports Google Apps/MX records out of the box, so what I’ve done is move the sites to WordPress.com, re-pointed the domains via PairNIC, which I’ll continue to use, and have set up Google Apps accounts for each domain to handle the e-mail side of things, meaning that I can keep my e-mail addresses the same, but use the Google backend, and web access if need be.

For nanikore.net it was a bit of a no-brainer – it’s a wordpress blog, so it was simply a case of exporting from one database as .xml from within the WordPress app, and then importing into wordpress.com, and re-uploading and re-linking a few photos. That all went fine, and my only real issue is that the author is now set as ‘brightblack’, which I suppose is fine too as it’s a solo written blog.

For brightblack.net it was more of an issue, and required a few minor decisions. After I’d decided to move it as well, and abandon Drupal it was just a question of format, and in the end I opten to copy and paste pages back in as posts, with just a few specific items like the Colophon and About as WordPress Pages. I liked Drupal, but it was massive overkill for what I needed and used it for.

Total cost: 19.94USD per annum to point the domains. That’s pretty much what I was paying per month at Pair.com. On top of that I get 3GB per site for storage on WordPress, and 7GB and rising for mail storage on Google Apps. (against 1.5GB for everything including email and sites)

On the whole then, it wasn’t too fiddly, and I learned a few things, and should hopefully be the last time I need to play with it for a while.

New Screen First Impressions

After almost seven years in my desk here at home, I’ve finally retired my old Iiyama AS4314UTG 17″ LCD. It’s still functional except some pixels stick and so it’s retired to the loft, to wait till the child wants her own Tuxpaint machine.

The new one is also from Iiyama – a nice 24″ 2407 widescreen model. As it supports VGA, DVI and HDMI, I can dump my switcher also!

So far all is well – very bright, crisp picture, and of course, at least for a while it’s going to feel huge, and a real bargain for 18,900yen, probably half what the last one cost.

Power Reduction

I thought I’d add a minor update for my Linux ‘Typhoon‘ server regarding power consumption, given that reducing it’s noise, power and also increasing storage space was the goal of the recent updates.

Here are my wholly unscientific findings, based on my Watt checker over a couple of hours.

Functional rest at the desktop:  was ~80 Watts, down to ~60W (-25%)

Being used normally  on desktop: was ~90-100 Watts, down to ~68W (-32%)

Peaks during high CPU/HDD use: was ~115 Watts, down to ~75W (-35%)

I think that’s a pretty successful outcome to say it is quieter and such. It’s still much, much lower powered than I thought, and I’m sure the ‘new’ HDD and the ATI card are mainly responsible for that power drop.

"Typhoon" Upgrade Completed

Just to explain the title, ‘Typhoon’ is my old Linux box. After a while of little interference save the recent fan and GPU replacement, it’s been happily churning away since April 08 when I rebuilt it to merge my Windows and [even] older Linux box.

The reason for this upgrade was simply that the two 320GB drives which act as my rsync’d archive drives have essentially become full and thus in need of swapout. After a bit of looking around and review reading, I went for two 1TB Western Digital Green drives. I used to only use Seagate, but over the last few years I seem to have drifted to WD. These are 32MB cache and 5400rpm drives – I didn’t need more speed, just power efficiency and capacity. Thus far I’m happy with both.

Essentially then, one of the 320GB is now wrapped in a safe place just in case (TM) and all that data is now on the two terabyte drives. The other 320GB drive has replaced the 160GB drive as the home of my GNU/Linux OS itself. On that subject I took the opportunity to upgrade from Xubuntu 8.04LTS to 9.04. there’s another one out next month, but it’s somewhat nice to know this version has been hammered a while.

It’s been running for a few hours and passed all the tests I’ve thrown at it, so I’d say that was mission accomplished.

Big Box Update

Just a minor, certainly insignificant update to the last post here. After a bit of research, and after checking the wallet more than once, I went for a pair of Enermax Cluster fans, and a Sapphire HD 4350, passively cooled, which also has HDMI on board.

For what it’s worth, the fans also have PWM, which is the fan speed control standard, so that’s likely helping some, but overall the machine seems much quieter. The new graphics card seems nice – it’s definitely a good media playing card, but it’s also half height, so with that large 6800GS out of there, there seems to be a lot more space in the case, and since the HD 4350 doesn’t require the extra power plug, it seems I can clear a lot of cabling out of the way.

The white LEDs spinning were a lot of fun for a while, but since it generated light equivalent to the average street light, I hit the helpfully located off switch on those, and with live with a darker, quieter box.