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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The EBook solution -

I love reading, and I love books, the feel of them, looking at the shelves full of them, going to used book stores and finding that one you have been looking searching for. That being said things move on and like it or not I think EBooks are here to stay, with that in mind and my uncontrollable lust for all things new and techie I view the whole situation with a mixed bag of feelings. On one hand I am deeply saddened that we may be loosing books in the physical sense, ages old paper and leather being replaced, like so many other things, with insurmountable lines of zeros and ones. On the other hand a whole new niche market is rapidly emerging, aiding and abetting the tablet revolution, the thought of being able to carry my whole library of books with me where ever I go is without doubt an exciting prospect. I don't really want to get into the ethical debate on EBooks right now but rather I wanted to share my own experiences with them and the many devices used for EBooking.

I have been trying to use EBooks more and more for about two years now with limited success, until recently. My fist experience was with an E Paper reader, it wasn't a Kindle or a Nook or any of the big names but a cheaper one bought on a whim at a discount store. I have since used E Paper devices from both Amazon and Barns and Noble. I found them all just ok, and the newer ones work very well, not as sluggish and faster page turns. I also tried using my beloved Ipad as an E Reader, it works fine, I don't have a problem with bright screen, I turn the brightness all the way down when I am reading and set the page to be black but I find it a little large and heavy for prolonged use. I tried my phone but found it way to small for anything more than a few casual pages. Finally I settled on a low end Android tablet as my main reader, I found the screen size at seven inches to be about perfect, the weight was fine and for under one hundred dollars it wasn't going to break the bank if I dropped it or lost it.

Even though I use the Android tablet as my main reader there are times when I forget to take it with me, or the battery runs out, or for what ever reason I just want to read on something else, I find that this happens quite a lot (normally because I forget to grab it as I am leaving). The problem with this is having to keep all my devices up to date with what I am reading or may want to read, this turned out to be more trouble than its worth, some of the big apps, like Kindle will do this for you to some degree but they are far from perfect, mainly because you are locked into only using the books you have bought through them. A lot of the books I have are DRM free EBooks from various places and while you can side load into most of the programs and devices they don't keep the book updated across all platforms. I felt there was something lacking in this whole experience, in this cloud based age why isn't there a way to read the same book across what ever device you have to hand and be able to keep track of what page you are on. I didn't seam that much to ask for, I tried all kinds of convoluted way to do this using Drop Box and other cloud services but nothing worked, that is until I stumbled upon a fairly new project called The service is basically an online EReader that you can upload your own DRM free EBooks too or you can purchase books through there own store. The service works on pretty much any modern browser (check the compatibility list) and provides a very nice reading experience. I wont go into all the ins and outs, please check there website for all that good stuff, but i will touch on a few key features. The big thing for me is that you can read your books on more or less any device and as long as you have an internet connection you will be taken to the last page you read. Additionally it has a cleaver little feature that will download or cache the book on any device you have opened it on, this allows you to read offline also, and I have to admit I am very impressed with how well this works. Reading on a computer is very much what you would expect but really comes into its own on tablets and phones. On Android devices you read within the browser window but on iOS devices (after you add the page to your home screen) you get a full screen app like experience that looks as good as if not better in some ways than other EBook reader apps. On both Android and iOS you can swipe left and right to turn pages and if you tap the middle of the screen you get a nice menu allowing you to change the font, font size, justification and switch between night and day mode (personally I use night mode all the time), you can also jump to chapters and search through the book in this menu.

In a nutshell is a very nice solution for anyone who uses EBooks, but really comes into its own if you use multiple devices. With a clean, easy to use interface and a concise set of useful features this software, in my humble opinion, is how EBooks should be.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The silver lining

After what seamed like weeks, no months, it finally came. The eagerly awaited CloudBook arrived by way of FedEx Monday afternoon. Christmas had come early. After tearing open the box my initial reaction I have to admit was one of shock. Its tiny, maybe a little smaller than I was expecting but that’s ok, small is good, at least where technology is concerned. In the box was everything one would expect to be in the box, computer, battery and power supply, you know the usual, and then right at the bottom of the box was a little zip bag, upon closer inspection the bag contained a cable, a small cable, a really small cable. I am not sure what exactly this cable is for, it is obviously meant to go inside the laptop, where I don’t know, I find it rather odd that that they would ship this mystery cable knowing full well that opening the case voids the warranty, on the other hand maybe that’s the plan they know full well we cant resist looking to see where this spurious extra cable belongs, anyway I figure I will find out when I upgrade the memory. I slid the battery into the laptop, pressed the power button and held my breath, I don’t know why but I am always amazed when something new actually works right out of the box. It did work it booted up and guided me through a few setup screens before we actually got to gOS. I have to admit I have played around a little with gOS before so I kina knew what to expect, and its ok I like the idea of it I just don’t think the industry is quite ready for it yet but that’s another story all together. gOS on the CloudBook though is not so great, I am not going to go on and on about it but I will say that everything everyone else has said about this version is right. Like I said in my previous post I never intended running gOS on this device anyway so I hooked up an external USB CD drive and installed Windows XP Pro, this went surprisingly well, and so did the driver install (all the XP drivers are available on Everex’s website). Now I guess we are getting to the point, there are plenty of good reviews of this product and I don’t want this to be another but I did want to comment on the major points that most reviews seam to slam this laptop on.

First and probably the biggest is the speed, this computer, as I expected, is not a speed demon, with XP on it, it kind of trundles along at its own pace, but its certainly not unusable. The display is great, it is super bright, and very readable at 800x480, if you need more screen real estate there is a 1000x600 setting which isn’t that bad albeit a little small for me. The sound, well what can I say about the sound? It makes noise I don’t think I would really want to listen to through the built in speakers but like I said before this is not a walkman, headphones sound pretty good though. I guess the last point I would like to touch on is the heat, it dose get hot but its no where near as bad as I was expecting from the reviews I had read. I had the unit running all day today, installing software and doing windows updates and at the end of the day it was hot but not as hot as some other laptops that were in the store today, I guess what I am trying to say is all laptops get hot and this one is no different, I am not sure why people expect otherwise just because its little.

So to sum up, after one full day of use I am actually quite impressed, it isn’t perfect, there are a few kinks I am still trying to work out, like the webcam doesn’t work in yahoo messenger, but all in all its not a bad gizmo. The speed really isn’t that bad and should only get better with a little more memory but I think the hard drive is what is really holding it back. In my humble opinion, if you have an extra XP license, this laptop is well worth $299.

I can’t wait for the extra memory to arrive, there are lots of mods that I am already planning, I will try and find time tomorrow to post a list of the mods I want to do.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Does every CloudBook have a silver lining?

A few months back I was idly browsing the web looking for information on UMPC’s when I stumbled upon a cool looking little notebook made by Everex called the CloudBook. After a little research I found it was based on a Via reference design call the NanoBook it’s also been released under various other manufactures including Packard Bell and Sylvania. The price was a very reasonable $399.00 from Wal-Mart of all places. I was tempted to push the order now button then but for some unknown reason I didn’t. Completely unlike me I decided to shop around and look at other small ultra portables, like the ASUS EeePC, the EeePC is cool I like the fact that it is all solid state but you do give up a lot of space and I am not sure that would have worked for me. Everything else was just way out of budget for something that may end up just a cool plaything. Yesterday I checked Wal-Mart’s website again and found the CloudBook on sale for $299.00 this was too good of an offer to resist so it’s on its way to me. I read around a little and found that the CloudBook is pretty much doomed as a product not many people bought it and the operating system the put on there is apparently not very good (it’s a hacked up version of gOS). I would like to say this isn’t going to bother me so much as I plan on putting Windows on the little guy. There are a lot of reviews slamming this product and to be honest that one of the reasons I wanted it, I like to back the underdog, but I think that most of the reviews if have read miss the point. They complain about the speed and the sound and the display resolution and how hot it gets, but quite frankly I don’t think this unit was designed to be a speed demon it’s an ultra portable intended for on the fly, out and about computing, you know stilling in a coffee shop checking email type stuff, mobile blogging, and web browsing, I really don’t think it was meant to be used to render the next Pixar movie. As far as the sound and the display go I am buying an ultra portable not a stereo and the screen is only 7 inches, how high of a resolution do you want? I personally would still like to see the text I am reading without the aid of a microscope. The heat issue, yeah that could be a problem but I don’t understand why reviewers are slamming the product for this, it is good to know admittedly but I own a computer store, we see a lot of laptops and nearly all of them get HOT, some more than others but most of them get to the point where you sure as hell wouldn’t want it on your lap, I had just assumed that this was normal now with the faster energy hungry devices we have grown accustomed to.

All that said I don’t have the little bugger yet so I could be wrong about everything, stay tuned to find out, the good folks at Wal-Mart say I should have it early next week.

One last note, if you are into modding this thing looks perfect, have a look around on Google for what people are doing to them :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Iphone, friend of foe

Yes I did it, I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, I broke down and got myself an Iphone. I really don't want this to be a long in-depth review about this cool looking gizmo, there are plenty of those out there and I am sure there will be lots more to with the release of the 3G version. I do however (as usual) want to through my two cents in.

Visually, I think the world is in agreement, the device is beautiful, it's sleek, shiny black and silver exterior screams "touch me" and you simply cannot resist. But looks are not everything they can indeed be deceiving. On a whole the Iphone is wonderful it’s probably the first gadget that I have picked up that actually does everything it says it does. Let’s start with the phone part, well it’s a phone it makes calls and surprisingly enough it receives call also, call quality if perfectly fine and if you find you have to dial a number that’s not in your contact list the onscreen keypad is very useable. The contact list I have to say is not great, it works and it’s useable but it’s not great even with the new search feature that the 2.0 firmware added I still prefer the contact list on my windows mobile phone. The web browsing is awesome it works better than any mobile device I have used so far even without Java and Flash (I am sure it’s just a matter of time before we get both on the Iphone). I do really like the instant message style text messaging (This has been added to Windows Mobile 6.1) and the email functions work just fine also. Oh and I almost forgot it’s an iPod too, that’s right it plays music and video, is it better at it than my Windows Mobile device? Well to be honest I have to say no. All in all it’s a cool gadget but I do think there is a lot of room for improvement. I have to admit that the only reason I am continuing to use the Iphone is because of the web browser, and yes it looks cool. If my HTC S620 surfed as well as the Iphone I have to say I would go back to it (I have Windows Mobile 6.1 running on the S620).

I want to briefly talk about some of the problems I have with the Iphone (maybe apple will read this) first of ITunes, I know this is a personal gripe I have but a gripe it is, I hate ITunes, it monkeys with my music, my album art doesn’t work and it feels rather cumbersome. Second is the lack of productivity software no word processor no spreadsheet program this also leads nicely into the lack of a spell checker (I had planned on writing this whole blog entry on the Iphone but it was just too frustrating). Third is the lack of support for media formats, NO DIVX, you have to let ITunes monkey with your files again before you can watch them (Divx is available for windows mobile devices) Last (this could be the most important though) is the lack of software, there are thousands if not millions of developers out there itching to write software for this device and you can’t use any of it (unless you jailbreak your phone) come on Apple this device is a remarkable piece of engineering and I don’t think we have scratched the surface of what it is capable off yet but let people help.

Is the Iphone the gadget of all gadgets? I think not, I think it’s a nice insight of things to come and I think its pointed the industry in the right direction but unless Apple become a little more open minded about third party software Microsoft will end up winning this battle. The future is definitely in mobile devices but they have to be more than a novelty or a fashion accessory, the Iphone is almost there but not quite unfortunately I feel it’s just paved the way for a better device. (maybe one that I can actually type a letter on)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ever miss the good old days of computing?

In this modern world that we live in technology can seem a little overwhelming, let’s face it, it’s everywhere, in our pockets, on our wrist, stuck behind our ear and soon no doubt implanted in our head. Sometimes it’s good to have little walk down memory lane and remember how things used to be. Take a look at this old school word processor I found at Not only is it cool it’s so very functional. Applications are getting way to complicated and full of themselves, even the new trend of online applications are somewhat complex, requiring you to have an account with them and one thing and another. Writer by is the complete opposite, open up the website and start typing whilst basking in the glow of a good old green screen. Writer is defiantly bare bones computing but it is also not without features, when you are done typing you and print the document, save as a PDF file or send it to you email or a variety of online places i.e. blogger (I wrote this entire entry on Writer) the only thing that is missing in my opinion is a spell checker.

Defiantly cool, check it out

Monday, June 23, 2008

Air Conditioning Repair - A tail of lies, deceit and industrial espionage - Part 1

What follows is a true story about one man’s fight against the oppressive heat of summer and the generously proportioned, money grabbing and all together not very nice industry that is Heating and Air Conditioning Repair. Please be aware that the names in the story have been changed to protect the innocent as one of the biggest secrets in the A/C industry is about to be released. Any information you procure from reading this is yours do with as you please but don’t go blaming anyone if you decide to try this and blowup yourself, your house, or anything else for that matter.

Summer is here at last. Picnics, walks in the park, fishing and sailing, just a few of the common summer activities that I for one don’t partake in. Why? I here you ask, well to be perfectly honest I live in South Texas and it’s just too damn hot for any of those summer shenanigans, especially considering the first 20 years of my life was spent in Manchester England where it gets bloody cold. So I retreat, hide you might say shielding myself from whatever ridicules temperature it happens to be outside. My favorite retreat of course is my house. My house, a place of solitude, a place to unwind and let the stresses of the day wash away in the calming glow of the cathode ray, a safe place, a cool place. This leads me nicely into my story. My name is Smith I live an average life in an average house in an average neighborhood with my beautiful wife Mrs. Smith, our son Smith Jr and another on the way who for now is affectionately named JB (Just Baby). Our lives are what you might call normal, average and for the most part very happy until one day the unimaginable happened, our house was invaded, the safe place violated, solitude desecrated, HEAT it was everywhere the air conditioner had decided to go on strike. This was almost too much to bare it was six o’clock at night, nowhere is open, what to do. Frantically I ran down my mental list of ‘what to do in an emergency’ I called 911 but they lady who answered the telephone said that this didn’t constitute as an emergency, I asked if she wouldn’t mind telling that to Mrs. Smith who is six months pregnant and suddenly we were disconnected, a glitch in their phone system I am sure. So I moved on, hospital yes that’s it, number two on the emergency list, take the sick to the hospital, I sprang into action, ran outside, where to my surprise it was considerably cooler than it was inside, pulled the car around next to the A/C unit and tried loading it up. To my astonishment it was bolted down! Well that’s it out of options well almost there was one left. Looking back though I can see how you may think me foolish but I was desperate. I sat down next to the unit and tried to reason with it, I explained to the unit why it would be better If it worked, how I don’t like the heat, I promised we wouldn’t just ignore it and take it for granted anymore, I begged, I pleaded I cried but alas my words fell upon deaf ears. So I did what any man pushed to the edge of reason would do, yes I started cursing and kicking it, finally after hearing my profanities increasing in volume Mrs. Smith dragged me back into the oven that was previously our house.

I was done, thrown in the towel, defeated by an immovable force. We sat uncomfortably staring at the television, the room was silent except for the mindless rambling emanating from the moving picture box. Time was dragging, minutes seemed like hours as if the heat had formed some kind of time vortex within the house. Then out of the blue Mrs. Smith spoke her words graced my ears as if sung by angels ‘I am going to bed, could you please call the repair people in the morning’ Could it be that simple? Maybe it could, I went to bed and dreamed about cold places eagerly awaiting the morning.

Morning came and the temperature was bearable, everybody went about their morning routine, even the time vortex seemed to have gone. The whole morning was awash with normality, one could almost have forgotten about the events of the previous night. We all piled in the car, dropped Smith Jr of at his grandmothers (its summer, school is out) and Mrs. Smith dropped me of at my office. As I was getting out of the car the angels sang again, ‘don’t forget to all the AC people, love you’. Suddenly like a bad dream the whole night came flooding back, the begging, the pleading, the crying and yes the kicking, realizing now why my foot was in so much pain I shook of the nightmare and opened the office.

To be continued…………………

Friday, May 30, 2008

Synaptics T1004 based touchpad to PS2 port

I was having kind of a slow day here at the office so I thought I would start sorting through some old boxes of junk we had lying around and stumbled upon a few laptop touchpads cowering at the bottom of a box labeled ‘Misc Laptop Parts’ (fancy that). Remembering that some years ago I had read most touchpads use the PS2 protocol I rescued them from their cardboard prison and decided to see if I could make one work with my computer. I googled and googled but could not find any good pin out info for any of the touchpads I had, most people are recommending trying this with the Synaptics flavor of touchpad, I had one Synaptics and the rest were Apls. I figured I would follow the crowd and play with the Synaptics one and condemned the Apls pads back to their confining cardboard container. Synaptics does have some very informative information on their website by means of a PDF file containing more information than one could ever want to know about thouchpads but no pin outs at least not for the model I held in my eager little hands. This is not really a tutorial on how to do this mod I just wanted to share some of the info I had found, I figure if you are even thinking about attempting this mod you should have some knowledge of electronics, soldering and general tinkery about you, if not, buy a mouse. I gave up on finding the pin outs for my specific touchpad and decided to look into the controller chip on the damn thing. It would seem that Synaptics really only use 2 chips the T1002 and the T1004, the one I possessed was the T1004 and Synaptics are very tight lipped about the pin outs for this device. I broke out the old multi-meter and started to trace some of the tracks for this chip. After an hour or so, a few trial and error attempts, two cups of coffee and a cigarette I finally figured out the important bits, it is true that a picture speaks a thousand words so have a look at the picture (if you click on it it should enlarge) and it should give you a good start in doing this. Trace back tracks from the chip to a good point to attach your wires, remember though this doesn’t have to be the actual connector, mine had some nice gold test points on the PCB that I used. I stopped tracing tracks after I had the touchpad working so I don’t that the pin out info on the buttons, but to be honest you don’t really need the buttons, left click is just a tap on the pad and you can set right click to be a hot region somewhere on the touchpad (I used bottom right corner). So there you go, hope it helps someone and remember if you blow something up it isn’t my fault.

This is where I got the pin out info for the PS2 port