Category Archives: Technology

Do I Get a Kindle, and Which One?

As Amazon, Kindle, or tech watchers know, Amazon released new versions of their very popular Kindle eBook readers early last week. My Aunt wrote me yesterday and asked me my opinion about the announcement (she’s a huge fan of the Kindle and a voracious reader). So, instead of writing an email, I figure I’ll take this opportunity to write a tech-related posted on my blog.

In one word, my response is… impressive. They’ve come a long way, baby, with the Kindle since the first generation, which I was a happy owner of. Really, there’s two Kindle’s to speak of, especially if you’re a current owner of an older generation. The Kindle Touch and the Kindle Fire. The first is simply a evolutionary enhancement from the last generation. If you’re happy with your current Kindle, I wouldn’t bother updating. On the other hand, if you hate using the directional buttons click click click click to navigate, it might be an option. The screen is marginally better, and it’s marginally lighter, but not a big enough difference to make the upgrade cost effective.

The Kindle Fire, of course, is the big news. It’s really the first real threat to the 800 pound gorilla in the tablet space, the iPad. To get this out of the way, it’s NOT a feature-by-feature match with the iPad, and it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s smaller, has less battery life, and is less suited for non-media applications. Think of it like this — they start in different places with different goals. The iPad was always meant to be a tabula rasa, with it’s applications providing it’s usefulness, but with Apple not really going out of it’s way to make it good at any one thing. It’s a jack of all trades. The Kindle Fire, though, knows what it wants to do: provide you with a platform for consuming Amazon-sourced content. Books, of course, but also their digital music, TV shows, movies, and games. In those areas, I suspect it’ll compete rather well with the iPad. It has the full force of the Amazon media ecosystem behind it, second only to Apple’s, and vastly superior to any other competitor. In other jobs, it’ll likely be not a top performer.

This, of course, is all speculation. The announcements have been made, but the reviewers haven’t got the slabs of plastic in their hot little hands to really dig into yet. I’ll close with this: when I bought my iPad, I gave up the Kindle. I’m seriously thinking about getting one again, though. The iPad just isn’t a great eBook reader. It’s too heavy, and the screen is just pathetic in the sun. If I do pull the trigger for the third time, though, it’ll be the Kindle Touch, not the Fire. It’s hard to imagine the Fire being really superior to the iPad in anything except eBook reading.

Yet Another Reason to Like Apple Computer

This is a great story about how Apple’s responded to the crisis(s) in Japan, through an email to Kevin Rose. I have to say, I’m impressed. Very impressed. Good on them.

On a more general note, it’s so difficult to imagine what life has been like for the Japanese this past six days. I think it’s important to try, though. There’s absolutely nothing that says disasters of a similar level won’t strike you and yours at any time. We can only hope to do as well as they have, honestly. This resonates with me a heck of a lot more than earthquakes or tsunamis in places like rural China, Haiti, or Indonesia. This is a society that’s had the resources to really try and prepare, unlike the other recent disaster locales.

Apple’s Upcoming iPhone 4G Unveiled a Bit Early

Apple’s known for their secrecy and their need for huge bombshells delivered by their CEO, Steve Jobs. They’re awfully good at keeping their secrets, too. This time, though, not so much. Someone is getting fired, I guarantee it. A prototype of their next iteration of the iPhone — dubbed by the media right now as the 4G — was found near their headquarters at a bar, of all things. The specs the media’s been able ascertain so far are pretty exciting stuff. Anyone looking to get an iPhone is very strongly advised to wait until this is released, probably in June.

I’m going to copy and paste a chunk of the article, but I’d highly suggest clicking through for all the photos and the analysis. I can’t wait! My wife and I have the iPhone 3G — 2 revs back. We’re eligible for a subsidized upgrade from AT&T and plan to use it ASAP.

What’s new

• Front-facing video chat camera
• Improved regular back-camera (the lens is quite noticeably larger than the iPhone 3GS)
• Camera flash
• Micro-SIM instead of standard SIM (like the iPad)
• Improved display. It’s unclear if it’s the 960×460 display thrown around before—it certainly looks like it, with the “Connect to iTunes” screen displaying much higher resolution than on a 3GS.
• What looks to be a secondary mic for noise cancellation, at the top, next to the headphone jack
• Split buttons for volume
• Power, mute, and volume buttons are all metallic
What’s changed

• The back is entirely flat, made of either glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic in order for the cell signal to poke through. Tapping on the back makes a more hollow and higher pitched sound compared to tapping on the glass on the front/screen, but that could just be the orientation of components inside making for a different sound
• An aluminum border going completely around the outside
• Slightly smaller screen than the 3GS (but seemingly higher resolution)
• Everything is more squared off
• 3 grams heavier
• 16% Larger battery
• Internals components are shrunken, miniaturized and reduced to make room for the larger battery

I’m probably mostly excited about the front facing camera. You know what that means? Teleconferencing with other iPhone owners. The improved camera and flash just might mean that I can stop carrying around a second camera in my pocket, too. We’ll see. I’m betting there’s other improvements that the press can’t eek out quite yet, too.

Excellent iPad Review from Daring Fireball

In lieu of my own iPad review (someday? maybe?), I point you to a long, but excellent, review of the iPad from John Gruber over at Daring Fireball. I pretty much agree with everything he says, including his complaints with Apple’s ongoing struggles with sync. If you’re curious about the iPad, or have one, for that matter, read on MacDuff. All hyperbole aside, if you want to see what the Future of Computing is, play with an iPad. It — along with Apple — aren’t without their faults, but this is the direction in which personal computing is heading.

I’ll Be Celebrating Human Achievement Hour

I remember last year when I read that the Eiffel Tower was going dark for an hour to show some sort of communal offering for the gods of climate change. It set me off then, and the now annual “Earth Hour” sets me off now. Putting aside any discussion of the potential of anthropomorphic climate change, the whole affair is only symbolic, and it shows hairshirt desire to punish us for our environmental sins. It’s a step back in time, when the setting of the sun, for most people, meant it was time for bed. It sends the message that technological deprivation is the solution to our environmental issues, and not technological progress. Joe Katzman over at the Winds of Change blog talks about my feelings on the issue more eloquently than I could:

So instead, leave your lights on between 8:30-9:30pm. I think it’s a great idea. Not just as a celebration of the human achievement and technological progress that has given us lives without parallel in human history, though it is that. Those space shots of North vs. South Korea say it all.

I wrote about this on my own blog almost exactly a year ago, and I haven’t changed my mind. I’ll be turning on extra lights during that hour to symbolically push back the darkness that others are symbolically welcoming so readily.

Handsets Are the Future?

Eric S. Raymond had a post a bit ago about where he thinks the future of client computing is going in the near term (4 or 5 years). It’s not necessarily that original, but still, I believe it to be mostly spot on. Read the whole thing (How smartphones will disrupt PCs), but the thrust is that handsets — mobiles, cell phones, smart phones, whatever you want to call them — will continue to cannibalize every area they touch, including the mighty PC and laptop market. The only quibble I have with him is the idea that all these coffee shops will have full size monitors and keyboards ready to go for their customers to connect their handsets to. Err, no, excepting the really high end ones in expensive neighborhoods, perhaps.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, actually, just because I’m so excited about the future. I am, after all, a tech geek. I don’t think people will give up their full power laptops and desktops — with the accompanying CPU power, storage, and easy input/output mechanisms — until decent analogues are created in the mobile space.

Sure, you can plug your iPhone v5 into a full size keyboard and monitor setup at home, but will it be powerful enough to work on iMovie and rip Blu-Ray discs by then? Nope. How about where you put those ripped movies or that raw footage off that HD camcorder you’ve been playing with? With the current curves, your iPhone will NOT have the space or the processing power for that.

And input/output? If you’re working on a complicated spreadsheet, watching a high quality movie, or working on that aforementioned home movie, you’re not going to want a small display, and you’re not going to want a tiny keyboard. Touch can only go so far with this. It’s great for manipulating objects, but for long form writing and number manipulation? Not so much. I think in 4-5 years, we’ll just start to see real alternatives hit the market for these dilemmas. Glasses that project an HD display that doesn’t makes you look like a dork and give you a headache to boot, some sort of a gesture based input or projected keyboards, that sort of thing. There are a lot of very smart people working on these problems right now, but it’s just hard stuff to solve.

But yeah, I think it’ll displace the netbook in 4-5 years, definitely. And in 10 years? Maybe — just maybe — the desktop/full sized laptop will become as obsolete as the land line phone.

Interview with Burt Rutan at the New Scientist

Burt Rutan is a genius, and happens to be one of my Dad’s heroes (he’s built, worked on, and flown planes from his designs for a couple decades). I’ve posted about him before. He’s the guy behind lots of the most inventive aircraft ever built — that actually worked, that is. The Veri-EZ and Long-EZ, one of the most used home-built designs ever, are his. So is the Voyager, the plan that flew around the world on one tank of gas. Finally, he won the X-Prize, and his company, Scaled Composites, is the main designer behind Virgin Galactic. Cool stuff. A legend.

He’s also an outspoken and passionate voice against the “climate change” crowd. I read this recent interview published by the British magazine the New Scientist with him, and had to share it. It’s a quick article, but gives a nice insight into the guy. I thought it was interesting that he flat out won’t do interviews with Scientific American, due to their reporting of global warming / climate change. He’s definitely a man of strong opinions!

The Next Thing: The iPad

It’s been a couple days since Steve Jobs at Apple announced and showed off the iPad. I’ve had enough time to mull over all the features — included and not included. Overall, I’m fairly impressed and excited by the device. It’s pretty much what I expected to see come out in the first rev. I probably won’t be buying one, though, unless I win the lottery. The chances of picking up the second revision, however, is high.

So, here are my thoughs, no in any particular order:

  • The big move forward here is in the interface. It’s what Microsoft keeps saying they’re going to do, but never does (not including commercial level toys like Surface). It’s fantastic.
  • The lack of a camera is disappointing, because there’s so many possibilities with one. A quick video call/chat session with your SO? All that’s lacking is the camera and the bandwidth. I expect that a future version will have one, and probably v2. I mean, the Nano has a camera.
  • iBooks is nice, but not really superior to the Kindle for reading books. I don’t care if there’s color or not when I’m reading a novel. For newspapers or magazines, though, this blows away Amazon’s device. This might be the Chosen Device that the periodical industry has been waiting for.
  • No announcement yet on the issue of DRM on their book downloads. I would be (sadly) surprised if it was DRM free. This is a big deal, and just holds the eBook market back from truly being a replacement for dead trees. I can pick up a book I bought 20 years ago and read it — which I actually do once in a while. DRM’d copies of books, though, almost certainly won’t let you do that. At least,  not without breaking the law and stripping the protection off of the files. As it is, because of this, eBooks really aren’t worth more than the price of a throwaway paperback, and perhaps even less so, since you can’t pass it along to a friend. Any more than $5-6 a book is probably overpriced.
  • I suspect that anything less than 64 GB will be limiting for the average user, given the size of movies and TV shows. At that point, you’re talking about some serious money, so it’s another reason to hold off until v2. 16 GB isn’t nearly enough.
  • What I’d like to see is a truly wireless device. I want it to sync automatically with my home PC, as well as anything in the cloud, without having to tell it “sync”, and without having to plug it in. I also want to be able to access all my home PC and file server data from anywhere without headache and without major security issues. The bandwidth is there right now for this, and Apple has some really smart coders working for them. This would be flat-out revolutionary.
  • I think a pound a half, while light compared to netbooks, is still too heavy. The target should be about a pound or a little lighter.
  • I LOVE the iWork apps. I believe it to be truly a window into the future of computing.
  • The big hurdle to all these mobile computers that hasn’t been addressed yet (by anyone, including Apple) is providing an interface for lots of typing. With the iPad, if you want to type a long email or document out, well, either suffer on the virtual keyboard or use a real one. And who wants to carry around a keyboard everywhere they go? Hopefully there’s smart people in Cupertino working on this right now.
  • I think this could be a natural fit for someone with an iMac at home and an iPhone in their pocket. I’m not sure if it’s a great fit for someone that already has a laptop with them all the time, though.
  • I’m impressed by the monthly AT&T fee structure, but cheap or not, it’s still another monthly fee that will have to be considered and absorbed.

That’s long enough, I think. While I’m learning towards waiting for iPad v2, my wife is salivating NOW for one. So, perhaps I’ll be able to play with one sooner rather than later. We’ll see.

To Jammie Thomas: I’m Boycotting All Recording Artists With the RIAA

I’ve had enough. For years I’ve seen the Recording Industry Association of America make a mockery of their customers, common sense, and fair play. I love music, though, and I really respect a lot of the artists that are represented by the RIAA. Yesterday, though, I read this story about a verdict handed down in the trial of the RIAA versus Jammie Thomas-Rasset:

The $1.92 million verdict against a Minnesota woman accused of sharing 24 songs over the Internet could ratchet up the pressure on other defendants to settle with the recording industry — if the big fine can withstand an appeal.

This is the result of a retrial, by the way, so it’s not like this is some one-off crazy jury. She downloaded 24 songs off of Kazaa, a popular file sharing software, and made those songs available to others. Boom: lawsuit. She fought it, mistakenly thinking that you can depend on the courts and the U.S. legal system (I’m not that much of a cynic, mind: usually you can, but not always). Years later, after a retrial was allowed, a jury hands down a judgment against her for $80,000 per song. Because, you know, that’s how much money the recording industry might have lost due to her evil machinations. I don’t use that word carelessly, either: it was decided that her actions were “willful”. Right. Like this woman decided to get those horrible industry executives, managers, and oh, especially the artists.

Listen: the intellectual property system needs to change. The whole mess needs to be rethought, refactored, and redesigned from the ground up. Regular work-a-day artists aren’t going to make this happen themselves, and I understand that. The thing that’s pushed me over the edge is the fact that the RIAA doesn’t have to do this. It’s a choice they make. The law gives them the power to go after people like Thomas-Rasset for “damages”, and they don’t pass those laws. They have a choice to exercise that power or not. And they choose to. The RIAA’s reaction:

“We appreciate the jury’s service and that they take this as seriously as we do. We are pleased that the jury agreed with the evidence and found the defendant liable. Since day one, we have been willing to settle this case and we remain willing to do so.”

So to heck with them, and to heck with any artist that’s represented by them. This is Arstechnica said about the ruling:

The recording industry lawyers, though clearly pleased, had no desire to showboat this one. The massive damage award, which increased from $9,250 per song in the first trial to $80,000, might sounds like a “win,” but will probably stoke grassroots anger against the industry’s campaign…

From now on, I will only buy music by way of used CD’s, or from artists who are either self-published or on labels not represented by the RIAA. Here’s a list of the RIAA member labels. I’ll be checking this from now on with every purchase. I encourage more people to do the same.

Things need to change. Keep voting at the ballot box, but vote with your dollar, as well.

Education and the Power of Monopoly

I was just listening to This Week in Tech, and they were talking about how if a person from 100 years ago suddenly was transported to our present, they’d look at all these fields, like medical, transportation, finance, and wouldn’t recognize it. Walk into a school, though, and they’d feel right at home; nothing’s really changed there. The commentator is saying that technology has been the driving force behind the changes.

I had a thought, though: what about competition? When someone has a Great Idea to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their particular area of expertise, they can challenge entrenched powers of their industry. Those entrenched powers either change or die (they usually die). To a great extent, education has been shielded from these forces. If someone tries to challenge the entrenched powers, those powers don’t have to change: they use government to shut down the challenger. So I contend that it’s the stagnating power of monopoly that ensures that someone from 100 years ago to notice very little change in education today, as opposed to other industries.

I’d be curious to know if this has even entered their minds, though: pretty much, the commentators are hard leftists on the show. I’m betting it hasn’t occurred to them that market forces may be behind these issues, or at least a serious contributor to them.