Laptop recommendations?

Computers 10 Comments

I’m pretty irritated with Apple these days, so have started looking around for non-Apple hardware. I’ve already picked up an Android phone (everything I need in a phone, turns out), but am looking for a replacement for my laptop (which I’m in the market to upgrade now anyhow). I probably won’t bother replacing (or upgrading) my iPad since I just really don’t use it that much.

Right now the soon-to-be-released Samsung Notebook 9 is looking pretty good. Are there other non-Apple laptops I should consider?


Books, Computers, Design & Usability, eBooks, iPad, Reading, Technology 3 Comments


So as pretty much everyone in the world knows, Apple announced the iPad yesterday. Unlike apparently everyone else, I actually don’t have a problem with the name. Legal pad, note pad, hockey pad, bachelor pad, launch pad…etc. etc. etc. Come on.

Anyhoo…while I’m crazily excited about the iPad (and I will be ordering one the second Apple lets me send them money), I don’t think it will be a Kindle killer for me. It could be for a lot of people, but the way I use my Kindle doesn’t really lend itself to immediate replacement by the iPad. It’s too big, for one, and too heavy. And the Kindle’s buttons are ideal — I often read my Kindle lying on my side (on the sofa or in bed) and the buttons are great. The iPad’s swipe-to-turn-the-page thing is just not going to work for that. As others have said, the LCD screen is a double-edged sword…while I desperately wish e-ink were more contrasty, I’m not sure I could spend more time staring at an LCD screen than I already do. I’m on my laptop or iMac 10-14 hours a day as it is — I use books and my Kindle as a way to rest my eyes, and the iPad won’t work for that either.

I also like that the Kindle is a single-purpose device. Like John, I’m able to read longer and more complex works on my Kindle than on my laptop, with a much better ability to focus. Reading on my laptop, I fall into the trap of responding to IM pings or just flipping over to check a quick email or jot down a note or quickly glance at my Twitterstream, at which point I get lost in the other distractions. The Kindle, on the other hand, is just for reading, a step away from the hurly burly of the internets and all the shenanigans therein. The iPad seems like it will split the difference — other apps will be available, but without background applications there won’t be IM pings and whatnot. I’m not sure what that will turn out to be like in practice.

We will see. I am going to get an iPad, and I am going to try reading some books on it. I’m very much hoping that Apple continues to allow Amazon to have their Kindle app on the iPhone and iPad because at that point they’ll have to compete on the price of content, and less expensive ebooks are something I’m Very Interested In. Once I’ve had a chance to do an actual comparison of both as an eReader device, I’ll post a review.

Honestly, this is all jetpacks and flying cars, anyhow. I like living in the future.

Testing WordPress2 for iphone

Computers, Internet, Moblogging 6 Comments

The good folks at Automattic have released a new WordPress app for the iPhone. Given that I am hoping to blog more, I figured I’d take it for a test run. If i can blog just as easily as I can tweet (which this app appears to make possible), I’m a lot more likely to do so.

Testing posting with an attached photo. Let’s see how this goes…

I’m also testing a new blog-feed twitterbot. Crazy times, indeed.

On ebooks and living in the future

Books, Computers, eBooks 20 Comments

Rumour has it that Amazon will be announcing (or possibly even launching) their ebook initiative on Monday. Included with this is their first foray into the world of hardware manufacture with the “Kindle”1 ebook reader.

Earlier this month, the good folks at Bookeen launched (as in: actually shipped) their third-generation ebook reader, appropriately called the “Cybook Gen 3“. I’ve been watching their progress avidly, and the second I heard that the Cybook was shipping my credit card and I leaped into action. Being quick on the draw, I managed to get my order in early enough to get one of the first shipments. Within days (possibly hours) their initial supply had sold out and all other orders were delayed from a Nov 2 ship date to sometime in mid-December.

I received my Cybook (from Paris, via FedEx) on Nov 7 and have been using it daily since. I’ve taken some pictures, which you can view over at my flickr photo set.


It is, as I say, very much like living in the future. There are some rough spots of course, but also some unexpected highlights. Here’s a quick rundown:

Readability: The contrast and resolution on the Cybook are great. I’m really impressed by the clarity and readability. These e-ink based ebook readers do not include a backlight, so you can only read them anywhere you can read a regular book. The Cybook screen is nicely matte, so there’s no glare issue whatsoever. Grade: A-.

Memory: The Cybook comes with 64mb of content memory and has an SD slot for memory expansion. The 2gb of additional memory I’ve added will allow me to put somewhere in the region of 3000-5000 books on it. Grade: A+++ I’m living in the future.

Weight and size: roughly 300g including cover and battery; roughly the same height, width, and thickness as a 300 page regular (non-trade) paperback. Grade: A+.

Battery life: the Bookeen folk estimate that a full charge should last around 8000 page turns. The e-ink technology apparently only draws power when changing what’s displayed, using no power otherwise. At this point I’ve read around 300 pages and the battery indicator is still pegged at 100%. Grade: A+.

Ghosting, page turn speed: Both excellent. I have seen no evidence of ghosting yet, but this may be an issue that takes a few tens of thousand of page turns to appear. I will post an update later if this happens. Page turn speed (the length of time it takes to completely change the display after pushing the button) is excellent. Not instantaneous, but still faster than actually turning a page in a physical book. No complaints here at all. Grade: A-.

Formats: The Cybook allows you to read ebooks in four formats — mobipocket, HTML, PDF, and plaintext. The mobipocket format is, by far, the best. HTML is second best being quite readable with functioning hyperlinks (assuming the hyperlinks are within the same document — these things aren’t hooked up to the internet). Plaintext is OK, but hard-wrapped formats get all messed up — I need to find a script to un-hard-wrap the Gutenberg plaintext files. PDF — well it depends for what size paper the PDF was formatted. If the PDF is formatted to a paperback-sized page, it’s fantastic. If the PDF is formatted to 8.5×11, then it’s utterly illegible with no way to resize the fonts or zoom the pages (that I have found). Grade: A+ for mobipocket, B+ for HTML, B- for plaintext, D for PDF.

User interface: Overall the UI is good, but not great. The “menu” button (which you use to navigate back to the main library screen, set bookmarks, adjust font sizes, etc) is awkwardly placed. The main “select” button is really too clicky — it’s just loud, when it should be silent. The little rubber cover for the USB port is a bit flimsy, doesn’t really get out of the way sufficiently, and is bloody impossible to remove when the cover is on. I am somewhat tempted just to rip it off now and save myself the trouble of dealing with it entirely. Otherwise, the Cybook is great. Grade: B.

Cover: Nicely made, well designed, good fit. Only comes in a somewhat disappointingly ugly brown and costs an extra $40. Hopefully other covers will come available over time. The cover is absolutely essential, however, even though it is brown. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. It’s worth every penny. Grade: A.

Manufacturing quality: The Cybook is well made and feels very solid. I definitely don’t feel as if I have to baby it or be excessively cautious when slinging it into bags or backpacks. The cover helps, of course, and I strongly recommend you buy a cover if you get one of these. Grade: A.

DRM: Buying ebooks (mobipocket format, f.e.) requires that you enter your device PID before you can download the book. This, I assume, is how they’re enforcing Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is just a fancy way of saying “you can’t lend other people your ebooks, ever”. Given that ebooks are currently priced roughly equivalent to physical books, this is an annoying pain in the ass. Publishers are really going to have to rethink the pricing scheme on these things, because paying the same for a DRM’d ebook and a regular physical book is just nonsense. Grade: bullshit.

Overall, I’m very happy with my Cybook. It’s small, light, comfortable to read, and does its job well. Unlike the rumoured Amazon “Kindle”, it doesn’t do wifi or have a keyboard or read email (wtf), but I’m really OK with that. I spend all day on the Internet — when I’m reading it’s quite specifically an opportunity for me to get the hell away from the machines.

I’m very excited by the possibilities Amazon’s ebook initiative may open up. Currently buying ebooks can be challenging — the seller sites tend to be atrocious, and selection is slim. Being able to buy mobipocket-format ebooks through (with all its reviews and whatnot) would be absolutely brilliant. We’ll see what happens on Monday!

1 – “Kindle”, seriously? Def’n: catch fire; cause to start burning. That’s a little Fahrenheit 451 of them.

“two decades have brought zero advance in productivity”

Computers, Software, Technology No Comments

From an article with an interesting, if arguable, perspective:

“User Experience” has not changed much in two decades. Due to bloated code that has to incorporate hundreds of functions that average users don’t even know exist, let alone ever utilize, the software companies have weighed down our PCs to effectively neutralize their vast speed advantages. When we compare strictly common, everyday, basic user tasks between the Mac Plus and the AMD we find remarkable similarities in overall speed, thus it can be stated that for the majority of simple office uses, the massive advances in technology in the past two decades have brought zero advance in productivity.

And that’s just plain crazy.

Read the full article here: 86 Mac Plus Vs. 07 AMD DualCore.

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