Amazon Video on Demand

October 30, 2008

I noticed today that Amazon is having a pretty good sale on some of their video on demand titles. I actually considered purchasing several of these items:

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Now I have to admit that on several occasions when our TiVo became confused and failed to record a show we wanted to watch that I have purchased that particular episode from Amazon. In general, when this has happened, I have been pleased with the quality of the video as well as the absence of commercials.

So, when I saw this video on demand sale this morning I asked my self why I wasn’t jumping to take advantage of it. After thinking about it I decided that the only reason was the oppressive DRM Amazon uses on these videos.

I mean, when I buy one of these I own it, right? So why can’t I burn it to a DVD? Copy it to a PC? Copy it from one TiVo to another? Convert it for viewing on my Video iPod or iPhone?

Hell, I have even downloaded video that Amazon was giving away for free and was not allowed to copy it from the living room TiVo to the bedroom for viewing.

I’m sure that all this DRM comes from the TV/movie industries and is forced upon Amazon but I am upset that Amazon (as well as Apple) is not using its considerable clout to stand up for my rights. Why do I not have the freedom to view the video I purchase from Amazon the way I want? Why can’t I create a backup copy of the video I own rather than relying on Amazon to store a copy for me?

Sorry for going off on a rant. This just really pisses me off.

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Nothing like fall in the north

October 25, 2008

A friend sent me these photo’s taken the other day at Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC, Canada. The colors are incredible.


— Post From My iPhone


Amazon Kindle – Mini Review

December 16, 2007

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I’ve had my Kindle for a little over three weeks now and I thought I’d jot down some notes on what I think of it.

As some of you may know I had a Bookeen Cybook Gen3 eReader device on order but Bookeen was having a lot of supply problems so I decided to cancel my order and purchase a Kindle instead. I was ready on the morning the Kindle went on sale and was one of the first to place my order. Unfortunately Amazon decided to ship my Kindle Fedex Ground despite offering free 2-day shipping so it took me a couple of extra days to get my mitts on one.

Since receiving the Kindle I’ve use it to read a variety of material and I’ll report my opinion of each.

The Device

In general I find the design of the Kindle to be a little ugly. Some might call this retro, I call it ugly. This doesn’t really bother me that much, I’m more interested in using the Kindle than looking at it.

As many reviewers have pointed out probably the biggest design flaw of the Kindle is the placement of the huge next/previous page keys. If the device is active it requires an effort to pick it up without changing the current page. Robert Scoble is probably one of the Kindle’s biggest critics and revels in handing his Kindle to an unsuspecting person and then pointing out to them how they change the current page. Scoble has a point here but, frankly, he is pretty much of an ass about it. Don’t get me wrong, Scoble is a very smart guy and he has a big heart – I just think his expectations for the device go well beyond anything Amazon ever claimed.

Aside from the paging buttons my complaints about the physical device are minimal. I feel like the A/C plug on the bottom of the unit is a weak point and I’m constantly afraid of damaging it when plugging in the adapter. I’ve read of one individual who managed to bend the small pin inside this hole and had to have the unit replaced because he could no longer charge it. That leads to another point – the unit can be charged via USB but it takes a loooong time. The Kindle must be completely shut off as running it draws more energy that the USB provides. After shutting the unit down it will still take 24 hours to fully charge via USB. I’m surprised that Amazon didn’t use a USB A/C adapter as the charging device. I have several of these but I afraid to try them on the Kindle for fear of damaging it. Maybe when they’re back in stock and easily replaceable.

I very much like the screen on the Kindle which, for all intents and purposes, is the same as that on the Cybook and Sony’s PRS series of devices. The scroller bar on the right of the device is used to make selections and it really very innovative. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and, given that there is no touch screen, it serves its purpose very well.

It is a good design feature that the Kindle has a user replaceable battery. The battery is reasonably priced too at about $20. If you ever had to send a device away and pay $80+ to have the battery replaced this is a refreshing feature. Plus if your a real road warrior who spends a lot of time away from electricity you have a cheap option to carry an extra battery.

I also like that the Kindle has a keyboard. I don’t do a lot of text entry but it is very nice for making annotations and entering search terms.

The EVDO wireless capability of the Kindle is fantastic. Sure you can add content (even content purchased from Amazon) via the USB but receiving content wirelessly from out of the ether is just, well … cool. I find myself looking forward to finishing a book so I can make another selection and have it magically delivered to me. I think this was a very smart move by Amazon.

The content selection for the Kindle is very good. Most newer fiction books are available from Amazon at reasonable prices. In addition, the device accepts Mobipocket non-DRM books which allows conversion of PDF, HTML, RTF, and text. I am disappointed that Amazon chose to introduce yet another form of DRM protected content. I think this was a mistake. It would have been much better if they had stuck with Mobipocket DRM which is owned by Amazon. Many book publishers, particularly technical publishers, are going to balk at supporting yet another digital format. Also, having the Kindle use Mobipocket would have opened the 100,000+ digital books Amazon has available to all the devices that support Mobipocket including Palm, Pocket PC, and other eReader devices. Amazon needs to decide if they are in the content business or the gadget business. I think it is a sign that Tim O’Reilly has stated that his technical books will not be converted to the Kindle format unless the device is an overwhelming success.

One thing I really like about the content offered by Amazon is that free samples are available for almost everything. In the case of a book this provides the first chapter or two for free with an option to buy the book if you so desire. For newspapers, magazines, and blogs a 14 day free trial is offered. Two suggestions I have for Amazon related to samples:

  1. When I buy a book that I have a sample of please replace the sample with the purchased book.
  2. After doing #1 above please do not lose my place in the book!

I also like very much that the Kindle comes bundled with The New Oxford American Dictionary and makes looking up words a snap. I’ve actually been surprised at how often I use this feature.

Finally what I think is the killer feature offered by the Kindle is search. You can search all the content on your Kindle, the Wikipedia, or the web in general at any time. This is an unbelievably useful feature, particularly if you use your Kindle to carry reference material.

Reading Fiction/Novels

So far I’ve read four books on the Kindle. Three were purchased from Amazon and one I converted from a PalmDoc (text) file using Mobipocket Creator. The books I’ve read are:

In general I enjoyed reading all of these books on the Kindle. I did not encounter any eye strain during these reads and, frankly, enjoyed these books more than reading paper versions. One complaint I have is that “Mangoes” contains images of maps that are very difficult to read on the Kindle. I’ll have more to say about that later on. I will say that “Mangoes” is a wonderful book and that Ann and Steve are my new heroes. I can only hope if they sail of to the Caribbean again they’ll ask me along. Ann??? Please!

Reading Technical Books

I’ve read several technical books including one purchased from Amazon, a PDF file converted by emailing to my Kindle (conversion done by Amazon), and a PDF file converted by Mobipocket Creator. The technical books I’ve read on the Kindle are:

I found that reading technical books on the Kindle does not even approach paper versions, or for that matter, reading digital versions on a computer. Technical books tend to have a lot of tables and figures and the Kindle handles both of these horribly.
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In the case of the Mac OS X book purchased from Amazon I found most of the figures unreadable. This was mostly due to how the image is shrunk to fit on the Kindle’s page however, in one case a big black box appeared over the figure. Ironically, this figure looks as if it might have been readable. Click on the images to the left to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I also found this problem with the converted PDF documents although in general the images in PDF’s seemed to come out much better than the purchased book. Most were very readable but some were too small to read. PDF tables on the other hand were a complete loss. The table text came out all jumbled up so that it was impossible to tell which columns were associated with which rows.

I did not notice any difference in the PDF that was converted by Amazon and the one I converted myself using Mobipocket Creator. In both most of the images came out surprisingly well and all of the tables were unusable.

I think the Kindle currently has some severe shortcomings with respect to technical books and Amazon need to address them:

  • The device should support PDF as a native format.
  • Kindle should have a zoom feature to allow portions of images and tables to be enlarged to a readable size.

All in all I will probably continue to convert technical PDF document to my Kindle. It is not ideal but it’s nice to have a portable copy with me everywhere I go. I doubt I will be buying any more technical books for the Kindle from Amazon. They are not much cheaper than the paper versions and are far less functional. In fact, I think Amazon should offer the Kindle version of a technical book at a modest price (say 80% discount) when the paper version of the book is purchased. Some book publishers do this with digital content and I usually spring for the extra $$$ to have both versions. As Amazon has it now I have to chose between the digital and paper version and, for now, that choice will be paper. Sorry Al Gore.

Magazines

I subscribed to two magazines via the Amazon site – Forbes and Readers Digest. I didn’t care at all for Forbes. There were no images at all and I kept getting lost in the magazine. I think this may have been because I sometimes accidently hit the Back button which seemed to act as a hyperdrive, warping me to some random place in the magazine. I cancelled my Forbes subscription before the 14 day trial period expired.

Reader’s Digest on the other hand was a very enjoyable read. Many of the images from the magazine were present and looked pretty good. As near as I could tell all of the content was present too. I’m keeping this subscription for now but if that hyperdrive starts kicking in who knows.

Blogs

The only blog I subscribed to was the Amazon blog which is free. I’ve actually been enjoying this blog and intend to keep it. The blog is updated several times per day (I’m not exactly sure of the schedule) and contains some interesting articles.

In general though I don’t see this pay for blog service being very successful. Sure it’s only a buck or two a month for each blog but it adds up and I spend most of my day near a computer where my RSS reader picks these up for free.

Newspapers

I haven’t tried any of the newspapers Amazon offers. If you are a newspaper person this might be a great service. I’m not and it isn’t.

Summary

That’s about it. I’ve tried to be objective in this review. Overall I’m happy with my Kindle. I’ve not even considered selling it even though they are currently going on eBay for upwards of $1000. Amazon made some mistakes with the Kindle. They also did some things right. I hope they learn from Kindle 1.0 and come back with a much stronger option for Kindle 2.0. I’m setting my pennies aside Jeff.


AeroGarden – First harvest

December 1, 2007

At 4 weeks growth we were able to have our first harvest of salad greens.

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Anxiously awaiting my Bookeen

November 18, 2007

As some of you know I’m an avid reader. I generally like to read eBooks when possible using either my Dell Axim PPC or my Sony Clie PalmOS PDA. I’ve been reading like this for years and really enjoy it but, convenient as this is, it is a far cry from reading a printed page. Furthermore, while reading novels using a PDA is acceptable most of the technical documentation I read is only available electronically in PDF format and PDA’s just suck at handling PDFs. In fact, surprisingly, I’d have to say that Adobe’s PDA software is among the worst of the lot.

As a result I generally read most PDF format files sitting in front of a desktop or laptop. This gets to be a problem because when I sit in front of a computer there are a million distractions. My RSS reader keeps beeping with new items, email chimes let me know the spam mongers slipped another one past my filters, and Perez Hilton keeps posting juicy blurbs. Hence – not a lot of technical reading gets done at the computer forcing to me buy technical books in the dead tree versions.

Recently I’ve become enamored of a new technology called eInk which is an electronic display that closely resembles text printed on paper. Probably the best known eInk device is the Sony PRS series. I have a friend who owns a Sony PRS-505 and I’ve gotten to play around with it some and I have to tell you, this is a cool eBook reader. I have seriously considered buying one myself.

So, what’s stopping me? Well – Sony is. I used to be a big fan of Sony (and in the TV space I still am) but in recent years I’ve become disenchanted with how proprietary everything they make is. It’s kind of like the VHS vs Beta thing all over again but Sony just won’t give up. Don’t get me wrong, the PRS-505 is a beautiful device but the only commercial books you can buy for it are from Sony and use a Sony proprietary DRM scheme. Yeah, this is Sony the people that thought it was OK to install a rootkit on your computer if you played one of their music CDs. Why wouldn’t I trust them to do DRM fairly? Aside from the DRM issue it bothers me that the PRS series doesn’t have a user replaceable battery and requires Windows only Sony software to install commercial eBooks. I will give Sony some credit though – the PRS-505 does include an SD slot along with the ever present memory stick.

While I was mulling this over a small French company named Bookeen released an eInk device that, in my opinion, addresses many of my concerns about the PRS-505. The Bookeen Cybook has the same general specs as the PRS-505 but supports Mobipocket as its commercial eBook format. Not only is the Mobipocket library much larger than Sony’s but it is backed by Amazon, someone who knows a thing or two about books and has enough clout to convince big publishers that they should support electronic formats. The Cybook also seems to do a reasonable job with PDF files and Booken has promised improved efforts in the future.

Cybook-In-Hand

The Bookeen has a user replaceable battery and does not require (or even provide) and desktop software. All books, DRMed or not, may be installed via USB (on Windows, Linux, and Mac) and firmware updates are installed via the SD card. If you are a Windows user who loves desktop software, fear not – Mobipocket provides free software that will let you manage your eBook library on the Cybook.

Now for the downside. Bookeen either had very little money or confidence in their new product (probably both) as their initial shipment of Cybooks sold out in less than two days! I know because in an unusual display of restraint (for me) I considered purchasing a Cybook for 48 hours before taking the plunge and they were all gone. I ordered one anyway and was told by Bookeen that I had the distinct honor of being the last order to be fulfilled from the original shipment. However, since that was two weeks ago and I haven’t heard squat from them since, I’m assuming that they ran out before they got to me and pushed my order back to December when they expect a new shipment. I noticed that it didn’t stop them from putting the big cha-ching on my credit card though nor does it stop them from displaying a November 2nd ship date on my online order.

So, I’m cooling my heels until I can get my hands on a Cybook and then I’ll report back here with my thoughts. Ah, assuming I don’t get distracted by reading.


AeroGarden Status

November 18, 2007

Here is the growth two weeks after planting:
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and three weeks after planting:

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Free Astronomy Classes

October 30, 2007

Ok, I know, it sounds like a scam – let me check my crystal ball, and all. But no! Prof. Richard Pogge, of Ohio State University has made available audio recordings of his entire semester of Astronomy 162 classes.

This is awesome even if you’re too cool for school. Give a listen.