Monthly Archives: May 2014

Airline travel, again

This year I flew to Las Vegas for EMC World 2014. Same as last year. The trip was less gruesome, as we had only one layover in Heathrow, both ways. The trip still takes nearly a day, including time spent waiting at airports, sitting in cabs etc. Not something I’d like to do multiple times a year.

Anyways. Travel. In Finland, things were as “easy” as they have been. No hassles at security. When you leave, you step into this booth (self service), get your picture taken and stored (for..some amount of time?). When you come back, the same process is repeated. I suppose they can track people and say “this person left, and came back”. Plus they have images of the people who are not in the country, and who are in the country. Handy if you need to track someone down.

At London Heathrow, there was a small kind of security screening thing. Get you and your bags scanned, again, and your passport looked at. Nothing too intensive.

The flight to vegas and back was on a British Airways 747-400. Personal entertainment system at each seat. Complementary crappy headphones, but on the other hand, they have used standard 3.5mm stereo plugs, so you can use your own headphones. Which is a nice change from the weird two-pronged airline fuckeries, deployed by most airlines. But, BA has no inflight internet. Blows. 10.5 hours between London and Las Vegas means.. well, being offline these days, even in the air, is a pain. Granted, you can use more gadgets in-flight than you previously could. Most devices can be on even during take off, but for some reason, phones can’t. Even if they are in airplane mode. Airplane mode means: no signals going in or out. Other than EM field generated by the various components of the device itself. But then, why would an e-book reader be any different? It has an airplane mode, and some of them even have 3G functionality, making them essentially big phones. So why can they stay on during the entire flight, including take off and landing? Mysterious.

Security at Las Vegas was about the same as usual. We were the only flight in at that time, so we only waited for about.. 15 minutes going through immigrations. Not a whole lot of questions this time around.

CBP person – “So, why are you here?”

Me: “A conference”

CBP person – “What conference?”

Me: “EMC World, at the Venetian”

CBP person – “Welcome to the United States”

That was about the extent of our conversation. Fastest entry of any of my trips to the States.

What eats me alive is that stupid “Welcome to America!”-video that plays, apparently, at all airfields when you are waiting in line for the Customs and Border Protection.

Leaving Las Vegas, there were people who were put through the Rapiscan thing (nudie-scanner), and some, like me, who were put through a standard metal detector. There was a lady in the line next to me who opted out of the rapiscan, and that wasn’t an issue for the TSA guys. No hassle, as far as I could tell.

Not once were any of my bags opened, and I wasn’t subject to any intense scruitny or questioning. Then again, why should I? I’ve never been selected for ‘random screening’, where as I have heard that some people are almost always subjected to the completely unbiased non-discriminatory ‘random screening’. I guess I’m just lucky.

Then again, few countries have any issues with Finland or  Finnish people. We’re not a threat to anyone, and we’re not interesting to most people. Most don’t even know where we are. That makes it pretty easy for us to get around the world.

That is, except for airline personel. We actually managed to drink all the gin that was on that plane (though, I do believe first- and business class has their own stash). Note, it’s a British airline, so they are bound to have a metric (or imperial?) fuckton of gin onboard. But when you get a group of Finns, that order not one, or two, but three drinks every time that unlucky flight attendant passes us..

At one point the stewardess that mostly took care of our piece of the plane started to suggest that some in our party maybe order one drink at a time, instead of two or three. And when we were above the continental US, she started pretty much ignoring some people in our group. “Hey xxxxx!” (they started calling her by name), and she’d be all like “Just a moment!”, and then never coming back. I hate traveling with that certain type of Finnish people, who need four galons of beer and booze to survive a flight. Not saying we’re all like that! Just 98% of us…

 

Lenovo Thinkpad T440s – 6 months in

I’ve now had the Lenovo Thinkpad T440s as a work machine for the past 6 or 7 months. Here are some short observations, things I like, things I don’t like, things the broke, etc.

Things I do not like:

  • The gorram touchpad. Get it out of here! Horrible the way there is like a single button (the size of the entire touchpad), and a certain area for the right mouse button etc. Just unusable in my opinion
  • The keyboard used to be better… now it resembles something that comes from Cupertino, and is not as comfortable to use as the previous thinkpad-y keyboards
  • No more nipple buttons! How am I supposed to use the trackpoint (a.k.a. the nipple) without the two buttons below the keyboard? I’m not, that’s how! External mouse is basically an absolute necessity
  • They’ve slimmed it down so much the keyboard leaves marks on the screen when you have the lid closed. It’ll only get worse, and I hope it doesn’t permanently damage the screen. I do have a screen-filter in between so hopefully that protects the LCD slightly.

Things I like:

  • Screen is great. 14″, FullHD (yes, It’s not 1440p or whatever). You could get it with either a touchscreen or not. Obviously mine isn’t a touchscreen, as I was buying a laptop, not a tablet
  • 256GB SSD. Not the fastest out there, but I like
  • Connectivity. With the docking station, I have enough ports to fill my needs. USB 3.0, 2x Display Port (which I have connected to my two external Dell screens), etc. etc. I’ve missed the optical drive a few times. But not enough to get an external drive to lug around
  • The overall form factor, size and weight

Things that have broken or failed more than once, or annoyed me

This list is longer that I would like. Compared to previous Thinkpads that I have used or owned, this is unusual

  • SSD. Started failing when I was saving files (for instance), and eventually stopped being detected at boot. Replacement was sent by Lenovo, and I swapped it out. In hindsight, do not do this on your own. The case is a bitch to open. Get their onsite tech to do it.
  • Keyboard. Broke a button while fiddling with it. A piece of plastic came off and the button was forever broken. My fault entirely. Ordered a replacement keyboard, swapped it out. Easier than the SSD. A bit harder than some Thinkpad models in the past.
  • The piece of metal that keeps the ethernet cable in place! This is incredibly annoying. For some reason, the ethernet cable doesn’t *click* into place anymore. Something is missing. Not sure this is a warranty thing. I’ll just survive, I think. I use it in the dock about 70% of the time anyway
  • Issues with the external screens, when docked. I have two Dell U2713HM screens attached via Display Port cables to the dock. Randomly, the screens will go blank, even when the laptop is securely seated (and locked) into the dock. Sometimes resolutions get messed up, so that one screen has a lower resolution. This might be a Windows 8.1 issue too, but still, annoying. Issues waking up from sleep, or power save
  • Serviceability. I wish it was easier to open the case. Granted, I don’t have to do it. I can get their onsite or whatever to do it. But I liked how you could open the slot for memory, or the hard drive, or whatever, and not have to rip the entire case to bits. Screws are also not enough, there are plastic clips that *will* break if you are not careful when opening the case. I wish it was more like my T410s, where everything, more or less, was behind it’s own hatch and/or easily replaceable
  • Not available with more then 12 GB memory. Why? Why the I7 processor, but then limit the memory to 12GB? Doesn’t make sense in 2014…

Not sure I can recommend this laptop. There are a lot of annoying things with this machine. When docked, it works mostly great, and with the 256GB SSD, I7 processor, and with it’s dual DP ports supporting large external screens, it is a powerful rig. But a lot of annoying issues. Not sure what I would get, if I didn’t get this one. Apple is out, never liked HP.. what other business type machines are there that I would like? Dell? Always thought they were a bit clunky.. I dunno.

Observations from an ebook noob

I’ve been the owner of an ebook reader (see the previous post) for all of two weeks now. I have used my kindle nearly daily, and it’s a handy thing to have around. So far, I’ve mostly been reading issues of Linux Journal (who moved to a digital format two years (?) back), the scifi book by MK Wren that I mentioned, and then various tests.

But about the medium. Surprisingly, I fucking hate that there are format restrictions, DRM and all that jazz. Why have two formats that do essentially the same thing on different devices? Profits, probably. Businessy stuff that I don’t understand. There are of course, ways around things like this. I read somewhere that you can root a Kindle, which then enables functionality not found on the retail device. There are various converters for formats, such as Calibre, which enables management and conversion between formats. I have read that the Kindle (un-rooted?) will not eat stuff that has been un-DRM-ified using a converter, or that it will read books that have been converted at all. I haven’t tried the software yet, so I’ll have to get back to you.

The issue of DRM is a difficult one. I do not believe in crippling content and/or software. Your product should be good enough so that people want to pay for it. And I will. The amount of money I spend on software, movies and music in a given year is not a small one. We own several shelves of music, several gigabytes of digital music, and probably in the neighborhood of 500 DVDs and Blurays. I prefer FLOSS, but if it doesn’t do what I need it to do, I’ll probably buy something. I own my copies of Windows, on all of my hardware. And so on. Ok, disclaimers aside, the point I was trying to make is: If your content is good and there is a need for it, people will pay for it. DRM will never be an effective solution, ever. People will always find a way around it.

Okay, done venting!

I’m still miffed that I can’t read my technical manuals or whitepapers, which are in PDF format, on my Kindle. I would really find it useful if I could carry that with me when I go on consulting gigs, so I could pull up any number of manuals when I’m in a server room somewhere doing an install. Yeah, I can use a laptop, but that will run out of battery on most install gigs, and it’s not comfortable to have when you’re behind a rack for instance. Printing them is also out of the question, as they might be hundreds of pages. This is really a use case I can get behind, though, I do admit it is a comfort thing, more than a necessity for me.

I ran into that pesky “out of memory” message, trying to read a tiny 15 MB pdf. I don’t get it. Surely the device has more than 15 megs of RAM, and I hope it doesn’t cache the entire document when you read it. Maybe a slight read-ahead and read-back? Conversion might be the answer here, but, as I said, I will have to get back when I’ve tried it.

As for the content: I have not bought anything from Amazon yet. I have bought The Book of PF (3rd edition) from No Starch (really like their stuff!), some indie content, and then the scifi books through.. whatever it was. Paid by paypal or credit card, then transfered them through the USB to the Kindle. Works fine.

There is in-device buying. I’ve seen ads for $1.99 books on the Kindle, and sooner or later, I’ll click on one. It will be interesting to see if there are regional restrictions on that. I bought the Kindle in the States, sure, but can I buy books from Amazon when I’m in Finland? Amazon.co.uk tells me to go to Amazon.com (eerily similar to my first tries of buying a Kindle). I simply don’t understand this. I get it that they need to like.. pay distributors and what not, but.. Just let me pay you for your stuff! I have the money! You have the stuff! Let’s transact!

You can also move content by sending an email to your “Kindle email address”, which was created when you first registered your Kindle. Also, you can probably use Wifi (haven’t tried it). USB is fine for me.

Even if I have to live without content from Amazon’s stores, there’s still plenty for me to read, and plenty of good publishers that provide me with cheap, compatible books.

Compatible books. What a laugh-riot.

 

My look at the Kindle Paperwhite 2 (2013)

So I’ll start out by saying that there wasn’t a real.. flaming need to get an ebook reader. I just wanted one. And I am at a point in my life where I can get things that I want.

It’s also painfully difficult to get ebook readers in Finland. They have this mantra here. “There’s no point in publishing/selling ebooks, because nobody clearly buys them!”, which leads to “Nobody buys ebooks because there are no ebooks/readers to buy”, which leads to..

There are a few readers that you can get in Finland. Sony has had a few models available at Verkkokauppa.com for a while now. There are also some less known brands (to me, at least), like Bookeen. No idea about their product. But try to find a non-secondhand Kindle, or Nook or Kobo or some such device. You can’t! Or if you can, I stand corrected. The Sony products have not been attractive to me. Perhaps just because of the brand, or the format support (they do support epub, more on these later), and have things like a MicroSD slot and so on. The Bookeen models apparently su pport both epub and mobi, which sounds great! If anyone has experience with the Bookeen brand devices, please comment. They are cheap as dirt (54,90€ at Verkkokauppa), which makes me slightly suspicious, but the format support is intriguing.

A great segue! The formats. There are two big formats. Epub and mobi. Epub is used by a lot of vendors. Mobi is used primarily by Amazon on their Kindle-series devices. PDF is almost universally supported (though, there are limitations), as are some image formats and common text formats. Some support doc, and docx, even xml-type formats.

So what format should you go for? I went for mobi, and the Kindle ecosystem. Why? Well, mostly because of reviews. Amazon seems to have a fair selection with reasonable prices. There are probably the same amount of mobi-formated books, so that’s probably not the main reason.. The Kindle doesn’t even have expandable memory. But the screen is great. It has received near-universal praise, and looking at it in the store kind of sealed the deal.

So why did I buy it in the US? Well because of the price. I paid $99 plus Nevada sales tax, (108 dollars was the total, I think. Don’t get me started on the stupid tax-free pricetags in the states..). I tried ordering one online. I went to amazon.co.uk. It told me I can’t order this product to my country (Finland, for those who are not regular readers). Why? Who knows. I didn’t find a solid reason. The price would have been about right (plus shipping of course), but I just couldn’t buy it. We’re all in the EU, so I wouldn’t even have to pay VAT or customs!

So Amazon.co.uk directed me to Amazon.com. They, quite obviously, have the Kindles for sale. But if I order it from the States, I have to pay the price (around what I paid at Best Buy, where I got it), + shipping + 3.5% customs fees, + 24% VAT on the product + shipping. Which makes the price.. well not so attractive.

I knew I was going to the US sooner or later, so I decided to wait. Like Chuck Norris.

Because of reviews, I ended up with two finalists: The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, and the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2 (released in 2013). Basically both have impressive batteries (they promise ~8 weeks with 30 minutes of daily reading, and some wifi-use). The Nook supports the epub format. The Kindle supports the mobi format. The Kindle is said to have a slightly better screen. The Nook, on the other hand, has a MicroSD card slot (supporting cards up to 32GB).

In the end it was the screen, and the physical appearance of the Kindle that sealed the deal. It’s simple, minimalistic, and not so plasticky and round as the Nook. I bet I would have been equally pleased with the Nook, had I not compared them side by side, and read all those reviews; most of them giving the Kindle a very slight edge against the Nook.

So once I had traveled the 20 + hours (door to door) to Vegas, I set out to find a Kindle. I weighed different options, looking up stores that were near to The Venetian where I was staying. It was either a Frys, or a Best Buy. Both had the product in stock, with the same price (or close). It was Sunday, so Best Buy won by being open (and closer). I waked 2.3 miles (according to Google Maps) to get to the Best Buy on S. Maryland Parkway. After stopping by the Starbucks on Flamingo, which I had to do to prevent accute dying (it was nearly 40 degrees celsius!), I finally got to the store. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I ordered it online, and selected store pickup. All this worked fairly well. I did have one issue. Best Buy offers two options for us foreign devils: 1) Order it to a US address (not sure if I could have ordered it to the hotel?), 2) Pick it up from a store. Another caveat was, that if you wanted to pay by credit card, you had to use a specific billing address provided by Best Buy in their handy “international customers” guide. I did run into a problem. I couldn’t type a telephone number that it would accept. It just told me “Please enter a valid phone number in the format (555-555-5555) or something to that effect. I tried all manner of combinations, fake and real, but nothing would pass the mechanical devilry that was their online store.

On the left hand side there was an option to “chat with a best buy customer support agent”. I considered my options. I could have just walked over, called the store.. .But being the antisocial prick that I am, I decided to give the chat a whirl. After a short wait (maybe 2 minutes max?), Jennifer came online, and within a few minutes, I had a working solution. Apparently the dashes were not needed (despite the instructions), and the number she gave me was.. something other than my own. I don’t care. It worked. I thanked Jennifer, and waited for the confirmation that the Kindle was waiting for me at the store.

All this happened on time, within a few minutes of the store opening at 11 AM.

At the store, I had one last look at the models, confirming my selection. I went to the online pickup counter, where I presented my ID and credit card, and was handed my Kindle. All in all very smooth! I can recommend this method to anyone visiting the states.

I did want a cover for my precious device. I opted for an “official” leather Kindle case, at a slightly salty $39,90 + tax. It does look great, so there is that. And closing the lid also puts the device to sleep, so I’m okay with this.

Initial impressions of the device are as expected. Charged it, which took a while. Turned it on, and it wanted a wi-fi connection to register the device, whatever that means. I logged on using my existing Amazon account (to maximize my surveilance footprint), set the time, and I was pretty much done.

I had previously purchased the VODO Otherworlds Indie Bundle, which included a number of ebooks in various formats. Conclusions: mobi format works fine, as it’s the native format. Comic-book formats (cbz and whatnot) do not (at least without conversion), PDF’s work… partially. I started reading a PDF course book that I had, and it crashed the Kindle at page .. 65 or something. Out of memory. The file was.. 15 megs maybe? Surely it can’t really be out of memory??

I googled around, and found that PDFs sometimes do that, because they have various scaling issues for the 6″ screen. The fonts might be screwy, the zooming so on might not work. So PDFs work.. with some limitations. Why I was able to load the file, and get to page 65 (maybe it had some specific content on it?), eludes me. The solutions to this were mostly to use some software to convert the PDF to mobi or something. Haven’t tried that yet.

That’s kind of a big minus for the Kindle. PDFs are everywhere. Most of the technical documents I read are in PDF format. If I can’t have a decent solution to reading them, that’ll be a bummer.

Ok, this is really long. I’ll conclude by saying: The screen is great. I have not recharged it, after the initial charge, and I read daily. During the evening, I can read without disturbing my SO, since the screen is slightly illuminated. I can use a very low brightness setting while reading at night. Something like  4-7. The 8-week battery promise is with brightness 10, and some Wifi, so I ought to get a good battery life like this.

The screen is very easy to read at any brightness level, and it is very fast to refresh (none of that full page blank and reload of the first ebook readers), and it responds to touch nearly instatly (to turn the page; there are no physical buttons)

All in all a nice product, with a minus in regards to PDFs. I just bought some scifi that BoingBoing had recommended, and I’m in the middle of one of those. In native mobi format. I also pre-ordered “The Book of PF” 3rd, edition, which was available in mobi-format as well. Looking forward to reading that!

Kindle Paperwhite 2, in lockscreen
Note the ad. The ads are only displayed on the “lockscreen”. Not in the books, between pages or anywhere else. The ad-free version was I think 30-40 bucks more expesive.
Kindle Paperwhite 2 - Reading a book
Pictures taken in fairly poor lighting, and the brightness on the screen was set to 5 (then again the camera automatics lenghten the exposure time). The book being read is “Sword of the Lamb” by MK Wren, all rights reserved, I don’t own any copyrights, etc. etc.

 

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nook_simple_touch

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle#Kindle_Paperwhite_.282nd_generation.29

http://www.verkkokauppa.com/fi/catalog/366b/Oheislaitteet-Sahkoiset-kirjat

http://boingboing.net/2014/04/25/exclusive-ebook-offer-mk-wren.html

http://vodo.net/otherworlds

 

 

Loads of stuffs

So between February and now, the period of time which will be known as the big lazy, is now over.

*golf clap*

A lot has happened. I went to Las Vegas for EMC World 2014. Came back. Have loads of new gadgets and things to talk about. I’ll list a few just to get started:

  • An Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2 e-book reader
  • E-books in general
  • Some notes and observations about my work laptop (a Lenovo Thinkpad T440s)
  • Gameboy DS Lite
  • GoPro Hero 3 White Edition
  • Some book reviews
  • Observations on airline travel (again)

And I’ll post pics of the TV mount, which is this model, for those interested.

EDIT: Also a curious observation. The four latest posts that I’ve made, have all happened on the 14th.