Random Bits

Here a some random bits of tech info that have caught my eye recently – enjoy!

  • If you’ve so busy you haven’t had a chance to look up and have missed the news, IE 9 was released on Monday.  Check out more or download it at http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/.
  • This is a bit older, but Kindle added page numbers to their e-reader in March and this post covers more about how it works.  I wasn’t that bothered by the lack of them, but it’s cool that it’s an option for those who need them.  I have the orginal Kindle, so I won’t get page numbers with my version, but eventually I’ll be tempted to upgrade!
  •  Going to TechEd in Atlanta this year?  Check out their new MyTechEd portal – start a discussion, check out session topics and more.

Will Computers Ever Become a Key Kitchen Tool?

With the holidays fast approaching, I can’t help but be paying a little more attention to what’s been going on in my kitchen, where mostly low-tech options reign.  I enjoy cooking and with that comes my very basic way of organizing recipes – in binders, sorted by category.  It’s simple and it works for me. 

I have a couple cookbooks on my Kindle and while I’m really happy with the Kindle for regular reading, it just hasn’t made its way into the kitchen as a viable way to store and access recipes.  I don’t want to get it messy during food preparation and I want to be able to move it around and view it from various places while I’m working on a meal.  A recipe card or magazine clipping in a small plastic sleeve always seems to work for me – I can tape it to a cabinet, slide it around on the counter and can wipe it off if I get greasy prints on it.  Plus, the screen saver never kicks on.

Still, the desire to bring computing to the kitchen has never been far from the minds of people who work with technology.  Starting in 1969, Honeywell introduced the first “kitchen computer”, the H316 pedestal model, offered by Nieman Marcus.

The need to take a two week programming course and the ability to be able to read the binary display was probably a few of the reasons there is no record of one ever being sold. 

Still, ideas for computing in the kitchen still rise to the surface.  Check out this article in the San Francisco Chronicle today, covering the ideas of a smart countertop, where cameras and a computer work together to identify food items and suggest recipe ideas that use the ingredients available.

Maybe this will entice my husband to don an apron and practice his knife skills.  Or not.

Put your money where your cloud is.

Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. Everything is about the “cloud” these days. Though for as long as there has been the Internet, there’s always been a cloud – it’s just a matter of how it was being used. And when it comes to the Internet, it’s a lot about what one can get for free and what is worth paying for.

First off, I’m a heavy user of Google services. Gmail is my starting point for email management and I’ve been pretty happy with the feature set and the service. Plus I love not having to rely on a specific client or specific machine to send mail and can access it from any computer and my phone. I’m not a big fan of Google Docs, but Google Voice is pretty cool too – and all of Google’s services are free, assuming you don’t mind targeted advertising. Plus the BlackBerry application works pretty well.

And let’s face it, there would be no WWW with web hosting services. There are several fine companies that offer free hosting for small sites if you use them for domain registration and don’t need any of the more involved features, like PHP or dedicated servers. I’ve been happy with DotEasy so far. It does what I need for several small sites I have to keep up and running on the cheap.

For file backup and document access, I use SugarSync. This service is free for the first 2 GB of data, but I’m willing to pay for the 30 GB level. Files are accessible via the web portal and there is an option to email documents to yourself that will then be synced to your registered computers automatically. If you want to check it out, use me as a reference and we’ll all get extra space!

Another cool online tool is Remember The Milk, a task management portal. The web service is free, but the tools to sync to mobile devices requires an annual fee. It’s a bit pricey when compared to what I spend on other services, but there is a two week trial period before needing to commit. The “pro” service also gets you priority email support.

Another cloud related application that I use daily is UberTwitter. This BlackBerry application is my connection to my favorite social media portal and is worth every penny of it’s nominal fee. Sure, Facebook has a free application for the Blackberry, but I find I’m happier the less time I spend there.

Finally, I’d miss the ability to download content onto my Kindle wirelessly over the Internet. Amazon’s service allows me to catch up on the newspaper daily and purchase books without the hassle of having to make extra space in my bag.

It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that everything on the Internet should be free, but I’m willing to put my cash behind web services, features and related applications when they meet my needs. What about you?

Digital Readers and Twitter May Change Reading and Writing

Check out this interesting segment from NPR this morning, “How E-Books Will Change Reading and Writing“, regarding the introduction of digital readers and social media into the mainstream.

Lev Grossman (a Time magazine book reviewer) says the real challenge for writers is electronic-book readers like the Kindle. He says the increasingly popular devices force people to read books in a different way.

“They scroll and scroll and scroll. You don’t have this business of handling pages and turning them and savoring them.” Grossman says that particular function of the e-book leads to a certain kind of reading and writing: “Very forward moving, very fast narrative … and likewise you don’t tend to linger on the language. When you are seeing a word or a sentence on the screen, you tend to go through it, you extract the data, and you move on.”

I don’t agree with the idea that digital readers make people less willing to engage in written material for the long haul. Personally, I read more now and spend more time considering and highlighting segments of books using my Kindle, something I didn’t do with a printed book. It not all about “extracting the data and moving on,” it’s about consuming the data in a medium that makes it accessible during the time you have available.

The segment also discusses cell phone novels and writing via Twitter. While I agree that Twitter is certainly not the future of written novels, I do think it is a fast and reasonably reliable way to gather news and information that is relevant to one’s current activities. It might even mean I have more time to read that book.

Tech Tidbits – PDFs on Kindle 2, Beta Exams

For those of you who like to be on the bleeding edge of Microsoft exam offerings, don’t miss out on the Microsoft Beta Exam Announcements blog. Right now there are 3 new beta exams available:

  • 71-663 – Pro: Designing and Deploying Messaging Solutions with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
  • 71-580 – TS: Windows Mobile® 6.5, Application Development
  • 71-579 – TS: Windows Mobile® 6.5, Configuring

Also, Amazon released a firmware update for the Kindle 2 that increases the battery life by several days and added support for native PDFs, which was originally only available in DX version. I don’t expect I’ll be dumping my Kindle “classic” immediately, but I will put a few whitepapers on my husband’s to see how it handles diagrams and other components that don’t convert well to the regular Kindle format.

Finally, don’t miss out the PacITPros December meeting. Check out www.pacitpros.org for details and to RSVP.

The Cost of Kindle Content

I love having a Kindle and I don’t mind paying for the content. Most of the time.

I enjoy the convenience of having several different types of reading material on hand without the bulk of carting around multiple books and magazines. The general lack of having something tangible to put on a bookshelf makes some people uncomfortable with the idea, but I’m willing to give up physical paper for the fast access to the variety published content that the Kindle provides.

The potential downside is the cost of the content. Of course it’s cheaper to read other ways. I could be better about going to the library for books (especially fiction) but the reality of it is that I’m one of those people that would often buy a new book and then let it collect dust on the bookshelf once I finished. I admit it. So I don’t mind paying for just the “bits”. The author and distributors of such content deserve their cut regardless of medium and I reap the reward of getting that new hardcover novel at a discount, delivered in seconds.

I also subscribe to the local newspaper. It turns out I read more of the paper now than I did when we had it delivered to our house and I don’t feel guilty about skipping a few days when it happens. No guilt about recycling the untouched pages when I don’t have time and I’m financially supporting the news outlet in a way that works for me. I even read a larger variety of the articles than I would browsing the same news online.

The only problem I’m having with the Kindle at this point is collecting too many book samples. The Kindle has become the holder of all that I haven’t had time to read. When I wander across a good book review, I pull out the Kindle and download the sample section. Sometimes the sample leads to an immediate purchase. Other times, its a placeholder for a future afternoon of reading.

The Kindle isn’t for everyone, but I know it’s working for me. So in a fit of shameless self-promotion, I setup this blog to be published in the Kindle Store. For a whole $.99 a month you can subscribe to Techbunny, as well as many others. However I’m not expecting to see the “pay for blog” model take off any time soon.

I do just about all of my blog reading online and it’s certainly not cost effective to have them all sent to my Kindle, as even the smallest monthly fee available ($.99) would add up quickly. I understand Amazon’s desire to offset the costs of “whispernet” for delivery, but I wish there was a free publishing option for some blogs, especially those with a niche topic or limited readership. I think that serving some blogs for free would give more people a reason to invest in a Kindle in the first place. Because once you are hooked it’s hard to turn back.

Deactivating Kindle WhisperSync

I discovered after some additional poking around, that it’s possible to turn of the automatic syncing of the last read page (and bookmarks and notes) on shared books. There is an option all the way at the bottom of the Kindle management page that allows you to turn off that feature.

It doesn’t give me all the content control I’d like, but at least the “sort by most recent” lists won’t be affected by the activity on the opposite Kindle.

The Kindle 2 – Still Room for Improvement

I surprised my husband with a Kindle this week for our anniversary. Because I already have a Kindle and there are books on it he’d like to read, it made sense to buy another Kindle so they could be hooked to the same account and we could share books. Sharing my Kindle was out of the question, as its rare when I don’t have it with me. I debated swapping the new Kindle 2 for my own and giving him my first Kindle, but I decided to stick with the first generation Kindle for myself.

The Kindle 2 does solve some of the annoyances of the Kindle 1. The “next page” and “prev page” buttons are smaller so it’s easier to pick up without accidentally turning pages. The keyboard has uniformed sized keys and the navigation cursor is on-screen instead of on the silver bar on the side. The five-way toggle button gives the navigation menus more flexibility.

The Kindle 2 is both powered and synced with a single USB cable with a removable electrical prong adapter. However, much like the iPod/iPhone, it has a proprietary connector on the device end. The Kindle 1 has a separate proprietary power cord, but the USB connector is standard – great for when I decide I need to sync on a Word document or converted PDF at the office and can use any mini-USB cable within my reach.

The Kindle 2 doesn’t have any way to expand the internal 2GB memory, but Amazon worked around that by making “archived” purchased content (content that you removed from your Kindle) available directly from the Kindle instead of having to log on to the Kindle management page and have those items pushed out to your device again. This allows you easily to swap books on and off the device if you run out of space. This is a convenience feature I have a bit of an issue with and would like to see some kind of “content control” option for it.

For example, a parent in a family with several avid readers (whom all have Kindles on the same account) might not want their teenager to be able to easily see or download the same books that the adults are reading. And a parent might not be interested in having scroll past the latest slew of “vampire” books when looking for their particular archived content.

This “hive mindset” around the shared content means that if two people have the same book downloaded, both Kindles continuely try to keep track of what was the last page read was – as if the same person read on either device. Also, I’m a big fan of the “sort by most recent first” option for my book menu, so having something that my husband is reading, but I’m not, floating to the top of my book list is a bit irksome.

The ability to specify which content is available to which devices or providing sub-accounts per Kindle would be a great feature addition that could help work around some of these issues. Not only could you better control sharing of content between devices, one might be able use different payment options per Kindle, instead of having all linked Kindles charge to the same credit card.

Overall, I think the Kindle 2 does make some nice improvements to the Kindle 1, but not enough of them to make me want to replace my original Kindle any time soon.

The Kindle – A Quick Little Review

I’ve had my Kindle for all of 4 hours and I think it’s really cool.

The screen is really easy to read, it’s simple to navigate and pretty darn straight forward to use. The wireless connection makes it really handy to download books, search wikipedia.com and it has a built in dictionary so you can look up words on the fly.

I bought it because I’m really sick of carting books around and not reading when I have time to read simply because I don’t have something interesting handy. I’ve downloaded a bunch of sample chapters of some books I’ve wanted to buy and imported a few PDFs of books I already own. I’ve been using a free software download to do the file conversion – results vary depending on the complexity of the PDF, of course. Documents that are primarily text converted pretty nicely. The big study guide for my Microsoft exam is so-so. You can also email documents in various formats to it directly and Amazon will do the conversion for you and then deliver it automatically.

I know some people has DRM issues with the whole thing. I’m not too concerned. Sure, if you buy a book from Amazon it’s in the Amazon format, but its available to transfer to other Kindle devices registered to your account (like a family member) and you can delete and re-load then as often as you want.

You can also download a lot of free books from manybooks.net and Feedbooks provides a downloadable index of their books that you can link to directly from the Kindle and download the books on the fly. Lots of classics, etc.

And seriously, having an easy way to read those crazy Microsoft white papers I feel like I’m always printing. It’s totally worth it.