Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Kindling Interest: Amazon Kindle 2 in Ireland

I will put my hands up and admit that I was highly sceptical of the recent explosion of ebook reading devices. Amazon and Sony seem to be leading the way, with Apple's new iPad also being marketed as being suitable for this role, and it was an introduction to the Sony reader that really peaked my interest. While having dinner with a friend she took it out, us both being geeks, and then proceeded to have a play with the device. My scepticism vanished instantly, these devices really are easy on the eyes, though it is hard to lose the sense that you are reading from an electronic gizmo, though it does not detract from the good attributes of the device.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: The Kindle in the Tuff-Luv Saddleback Cover

Over the next day or two I went online and did some googling, looking for reviews and scanning forums for users opinions. My goal was to have a device which I could not just read books from, but also help me with the substantial reading I have to do for my degree. Initially the Sony device with the touchscreen was the frontrunner, but I started to lean further to the Amazon Kindle 2 based on reviews and my only personal preferences. My main hang-up was going to be how well this device handles PDF files. The problem with the Kindle is that it does not handle them well, you get no editing options if you just copy them onto the device. What you must do is email the PDF files to Amazon, they convert them to the Kindle format, for free, and email them back to you. This process (even for 10 large pdf's sent at once) has never taken loner then 4-5mins. There is the option to send the converted files directly to your Kindle instead of back to your email account but this costs about 10c per file... so I will 'drag and drop' for the time being.

Amazon Kindle 2 Connected to Ubuntu
Image: Kindle connected to Ubuntu, simple

Amazon also has a choice of Kindles, the 6" version or the larger DX with a 9.7" screen. The larger one also benefits from orientating the screen automatically depending if you are holding in portrait or landscape. For a complete description on the Kindle 6" there are two short videos provided by Amazon to watch HERE and HERE . Another concern of mine was how well the Kindle would be serviced here in Ireland by the wireless, would access really be free? Guess what, it is! You can access the Kindle store, download the books, use Wikipedia all for free on the device. You essentially get yourself an encyclopaedia before you even buy your first book. I have already bought items in the store and they have always been downloaded to the device in the 60secs Amazon likes advertising. Another useful feature is the 'sample' option, Amazon send you on a sample from the book for free, maybe a chapter or more, and if you like you can buy, I have already used this feature several times.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Shopping on the Kindle

Using Ubuntu as my operating system I was concerned with how well they would work together, even though the underlying OS on the Kindle is linux that does not promise anything. Again, forum posts looked positive and when I plugged the Kindle into the PC (running Ubuntu Karmic Koala 9.10) the Kindle showed up like any other USB drive and is even labelled 'Kindle'. Passing file to the device are as easy as 'drag and drop', for all intense purposes there is nothing to report, it all works perfectly.

Amazon Kindle 2 Connected to Ubuntu
Image: Kindle appearing in Ubuntu

I did buy the recommended Amazon Kindle Cover, but after a day or two I just did not enjoy using it and found it distracted from the overall excellent quality of the Kindle. So after doing some more searching I found the Tuff-Luv Saddleback Case and I absolutely love it, the soft leather feel and the way it slips over the Kindle really makes it a much better mate then the folder type cover. There are a vast array of choice available but I recommend you start with Tuff-Luv either on Amazon or via their official website HERE, you should not be disappointed.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Connected and in the Tuff-Luv Cover

Amazons operation is slick, I ordered on a Friday and the Amazon was at my door Monday morning having left the USA and getting delivered by UPS to my door in Ireland via Germany. Turning on the wireless will have a welcome letter delivered to you as well as any shopping you may have done before the devices arrival. So far I am loving it, its ease of use and simplicity is key. If you just like reading lots of books this device is a blessing, especially if you travel a lot. If like me you are more research inclined or just like making comments these features are there and I use them all the time, however they are not yet as slick as everything else. It is great being able to scan through entire articles for that quote you forgot to note the page of, but being able to scan through research is slightly less appealing. Though I am not wiping out several trees a week in printing materials and then losing them a few weeks later together with my notes, they are all here and with copies stored on my PC I have them indefinitely. All that and my bag is a damn site lighter.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Reading the Kindle in Landscape

You got to remember, and this is what I did not get, is that you are not reading a computer screen. Your eyes are not going to tire and get sore after reading for some time. The 'electronic ink' on the screen is almost book-like. You can sit and read without strain and the small size of the 6" suits the kind of reading of those of us on the move often. The Kindle 9.7" DX would be fine for me if I could afford it and not need to carry around all day. This is my secptism with devices like the new Apple iPad, I think reading ebooks will be a nice feature for the device but it will not compare in the long-term with the benefits of Sony and Amazons purpose built devices. That and the screen of the iPad will surely start to strain the eyes in time, also the weight and size of it will detract from this role. Then again, to be fair, it is not its primary purpose. The battery life of the Kindle 2 really depends on how much you need the wireless turned on, so most of the time you could leave off and this could give you up to two weeks of usage, while with wireless on 24/7 this is slashed to approx 4 days. Charging the Kindle 2 is via USB, just plug in and wait for the light to turn from yellow (charging) to green (charged) with a full charge only taking about 3 hours.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: Pressing the menu button gives you these options

OK, we know I love it but what are the little niggles that I have found over the last two weeks of playing with it daily?

1 - On the left hand side I would find it more useful for the 'next page' and 'prev page' buttons to be swapped, since I am right handed I would find it much more natural to use the device in that manner.
2 - The male voice is very pleasant to listen to with the speech function, but the female voice I think the pitch may be slightly too high and is not as enjoyable for extended periods of time
3 - The 'home' screen would be much more useful if the owner could arrange what is on the device under owner created headings
4 - As a college student and have been using the Kindle primarily to store/read and make notes. The conversion from PDF format to AZW is still not perfect, maybe moving all footnotes and images the end of the PDF would ensure more concise formatting.
5 - The option to set a password at start-up and when the device wakes up
6 - 'Basic web' seems to be very slow when I have used it and I do question the usefulness on such a device. However just offering to look up Wikipedia is very useful function.
7 - The selection of titles in the Amazon Kindle Store is still not huge and those not available in Europe can not be downloaded to your device

That is about it, everything else just works. I never used the original Kindle but from what I have read the Kindle 2 has integrated all the improvements suggested by users. If history does repeat, then maybe next year we could see the next generation of Kindle appearing with more improvement. I am hesitant to suggest a colour screen version as it would add to the price, reduce battery life and its usefulness would be limited. Though if you read more magazines then books, maybe a colour option would be more appropriate.

Amazon Kindle 2
Image: One of the screensavers

If you have any doubts but are really interested then try to see the device in the flesh or at least try to see a device with a similar type screen, there are also many more photos on my flickr page (CLICK HERE for the set). I have loved using and should continue you to enjoy it for as long as it lasts...or when the next model arrives.

Happy e-reading and peace

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Friday, 19 February 2010

Hark the Engines Roar: World Superbikes 2010

Superbike World ChampionshipImage via Wikipedia

In the distance I can hear the engines revving, then before my eyes like a mirage the silhouettes of grid girls start emerge, and then on the air my nostrils detect the the sweet mixture of fuel, sweat and leather... it can only mean one thing! The reason why millions of us around the globe get down on one knee on a Sunday morning finally arrives as the winter hibernation ends, motorcycle racing is set to return. No more season reviews or 'classic' races replayed to fill air-time on Sunday afternoon. No, it is time for weekends to get interesting again as the motorcycle racing season kicks off with the World Superbikes first round on the 28th February. For a refresher of how Ben Spies arrived (then left for MotoGP) and firmly set his mark on World Superbikes just have a quick watch of the Yamaha 2009 season review below

This years calender is as follows:

Round 1: 27 Feb-28 Feb from Australia
Round 2: 27 Mar-28 Mar from Portugal
Round 3: 10 Apr-11 Apr from Spain
Round 4: 24 Apr-25 Apr from Holland
Round 5: 08 May-09 May from Italy
Round 6: 15 May-16 May from South Africa
Round 7: 30 May-31 May from USA
Round 8: 25 Jun-27 Jun from San Marino
Round 9: 10 Jul-11 Jul from Czech Republic
Round 10: 31 Jul-01 Aug from Great Britain
Round 11: 04 Sep-05 Sep from Germany
Round 12: 25 Sep-26 Sep from Italy
Round 13: 02 Oct-03 Oct from France

This season we will also see the return of two time WSBK World Champion James Toesland (JT) after his attempt to replicate similar results in MotoGP failed. Ben Spies is now on his MotoGP ride while JT is taking the spot left by Ben. Knowing James he has what is takes to be soon back to the top, though with lots of fresh blood in WSBK mixed with the likes of JT and long time favourites like Haga...well...this is going to be one exciting ride! To be kept fully up-to-date on all the news and want to see this years teams or simply want more information then I recommend the official World Superbike Website. There is a wealth of information there to fill your time before the first round kicks off on the 27th.

How long then after that before the next hit of motorcycle racing? Well the AMA restarts in the USA from March 3rd, with the AMA Round 2 following from the 27th and the WSBK Round 2 joining it on the 28th! British Superbikes will not be back until the 29th March, though the premier motorcycle racing class, MotoGP will be back from the 10th of April. Excited yet?

Peace and keep the rubber side down

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Friday, 12 February 2010

Buell is Gone...Long Live Motus

With the demise of Buell motorcycles at the hands of Harley-Davidson part of me began to wonder what could ever replace my Ulysses XB12XT? At first glance nothing out there stirs the senses or gets me as excited in anticipation of jumping on the big v-twin sports tourer and going for a ride, be it a weekend furlong or the daily commute. However news of a new motorcycle has started to wet my appetite, namely the Motus MST-01K as described in the companies own words:

The future of sport touring is taking shape at Motus. The MST-01 is a comfortable sportbike designed for long distance canyon carving and face-melting performance. At the heart of the Motus MST series is a purpose built, liquid-cooled V4 engine with a scandalous exhaust note. Start saving vacation days now.

First though, who are Motus Motorcycles? They have been summed up as "a privately held company developing the first V4-powered American sport touring motorcycle. MST series motorcycles, including the MST-01 and premium MST-R, are next generation sport touring motorcycles engineered for optimum rider and passenger comfort for extended, spirited journeys, and use quality components for responsive handling" (PR Newswire). Getting excited yet?

At the heart of the MST-01 will be an engine developed by engine builder Kartech who have designed and built the worlds first Direct Injection four-stroke motorcycle engine. Kartect have an impressive resume, "since 1977, Katech has been designing, developing and manufacturing engines with a focus on precision, innovation, and durability leading to over 50 championships in American Le Mans (ALMS), NASCAR®, SCCA SPEED World Challenge, and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). Katech's legacy of durability has led to multiple wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Katech "firsts" include: 1st ALMS Green Challenge winner, 1st E85-powered Corvette, 1st 500 ci small block without block modification, 1st LS7-powered Camaro, 1st modern GM V16, 1st V8 turbocharged win in Grand Prix Hydroplane, 1st V8 turbocharged Win In Class 1 Offshore Racing, 1st 200 MPH Truck In FIA Group II, Class 9, and now, the creation of the first direct injected (DI) V4." (PR Newswire).

So what we are being offered is a 1650cc sports tourer, which should produce 140bhp at 7800rpm and 119ftlb at 4500rpm. This is built from the ground up with what I love...torque! This engine and bike will be built with real-world riding in mind, complete with hard cases, an option of solo or dual touring seating and an engine that is designed for 'bulletproof' reliability. Motus co-founder Case says; "We didn't focus on maximum horsepower, we focused on heightening the rider experience. To us, that means tons of torque over a wide range, low vibes, high efficiency, bulletproof durability and a scandalous exhaust note" (MCN, Wednesday 10th February 2010, p.11). They claim that the engine will be so easy to maintain that any mechanic from 'here to Australia' will be able to look after it.

Here we have the American equivalent of the Corvette, the classic muscle-car, being brought to the motorcycle world. Manufacturers such as Yamaha do offer the V-Max, but that has never been thought of as, or ever designed to be, a sports tourer. Instead this new machine from Motus echoes everything that made me fall in love with the Buell brand. I will keep an eye on how this develops in the future with the hope that one day one shall be mine...oh yes, it will be mine.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

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Sunday, 7 February 2010

Karmic Compaq: Installing Ubuntu 9.10 on a Presario PC

Ubuntu wordmark officialImage via Wikipedia

The Compaq Presario SR5109UK is my first desktop PC, since the late 90s all I have owned are laptops and now netbooks. I really do prefer the mobile nature of a laptop and sitting/going virtually anywhere you like with it, but when my sister offered up this desktop that had been hidden under the boxes of Crimbo decorations and covered in dust I happily jumped at the opportunity. I usually install Ubuntu via a USB stick/key as I feel it is much quicker but since I had a copy of the 9.10 on a CD I choose to go the more traditional route and just place it into the multi-drive. You can always download a copy for free from Ubuntu by Clicking Here to visit the download site.

Mounting the Karmic Koala

Having converted 100% to Ubuntu back in 2007, after a year of running it side-by-side with Windoh's, my preferred option is an fresh install which allows me to partition the hard-drive and placinh the Windoh's install CD's into a recycle bin draw. Of course if you are a regular game player or you need to run some applications in Windoh's then feel free to let Ubuntu automatically set everything up for you and install both side-by-side. Below though I will list my preferences.

Once the computer reboots with the install CD in the drive it should automatically launch the Ubuntu install screen, or you can just press F11 and choose the CD/DVD drive from the list. After that I choose to install Ubuntu and follow the steps setting up my preferences until getting to the hard-drive partitioning screen. Here I choose to format the drives manually, which thanks to the graphically interface, is an easy and painless affair. My prefered partition table is always:

/ = For the root/filesystem, approx 10% of total HD, so in this case approx 15GB
swap = This I usually have twice the size of available/total RAM, so approx 3GB
/home = For all my personal stuff/file, the rest of the HD

This is just what I like, you can partition the drives as much or a little as you choose but it is recommended to have a separate '/home' partition as in the future if you ever break anything or would like to do a fresh install again all your personal files will happily sit in the '/home' partition with all your preferences intact (provided you do not reformat it).

After all that, some password stuff and naming Ubuntu begins to install and life should be sweet...

Grappling with a Krazed Koala

Something strange happened after my Ubuntu install...nothing! The computer logged in and all was frozen, not even the mouse or keyboard would work. So had to perform a hard shutdown (killed the power). Restarted, logged in, same thing happened again. So what next? Hard shutdown again, then when I got to the log in screen I selected 'Gnome Failsafe' from the Gnome sessions in the bottom right. Logged in and the desktop was working. I got online and started where everybody should the Ubuntu Forums! Also I proceeded to Launchpad to look for this bug and subsequently filed a separate bug report #517371.

Happily a simple solution was found on the Ubuntu Forums which you can find by Clicking Here (post #22), but here are the steps below:

1 - While in the Gnome Failsafe environment go into System->Preference->Appearance. In here click the 'Visual Effects' tab and select 'None'.

2 - Restart PC and log back into a normal session. The visual effects should be off and your machine working normally. Now open up a Terminal window (Application->Accessories->Terminal) and type in the following amd hit enter:

sudo aptitude remove compiz compiz-core

Once that is finished then type in the following:

sudo apt-get install compiz compiz-core fusion-icon emerald simple-ccsm

3 - Now lets get those graphics working! Click the new Compiz Fusion Icon (Applications->System Tools->Compiz Fusion Icon). It should appear in the notification area. Right click it with your mouse, select 'compiz' as your window manager, compiz options to 'indirect rendering' and the window decorator to GTK.

4 - To get the compiz fusion icon to load on start-up just quickly do the following:

A) System->Preferences->Start-Up Applications
B) Click 'Add'
C) Name: Compiz Fusion Icon
D) Command: fusion-icon -f
E) Click Save.

5 - Now close everything down and restart your PC. Everything should now be working and the freezing gone.

The Knowledgeable Karmic Koala

With the above little bump fixed time to install all my favourite repos and software. This is going to be a completely personal choice, on what you prefer or do with your PC. Though the great thing is that all this software is FREE so you can download and try whatever you like, forever how long you like and with no nasty catches. A favourite blog of mine to start with that provides an excellent guide is:

Eva's Useful Guide to Ubuntu 9.10

Here you should find everything you need to give a a very useful set-up with all the software, codecs and so on that you would use regularly. This is a great place to start and is usually always my first destination, make sure to bookmark the page!

Kool Karmic Koala

Finally I will take you briefly through how I have got the current 'look' of my desktop. For this again I recommend another great Ubuntu blog at OMG!Ubuntu!. This blog a great source for news and all sort of tweaks and up & coming software, all done with a bit of fun and very practical for end-users.

One of my favourite desktop applications is the 'Docky' panel that sits at the bottom of my screen. This replaces my lower panel but is much more functional and fun! Installing is simple as all you have to do is open up the Terminal again and type in:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:docky-core/ppa

Then install with the following:

sudo apt-get install docky

Now you are all set to tweak and set it up as you so desire. For loads moe information on Docky and what you (and will) be able to do with it head over to the OMG!Ubuntu! Docky thread

Theme wise I have OMG!Ubuntu! to thank again for introducing me to the Elementary Theme. Again, installing is straight forward and since they have a PPA your theme will stay up-to-date as they continue to develop it. Their Launchpad pad can be found by Clicking Here while you can easily install by opening the Terminal window and typing:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:elementaryart

Then finishing off the install with:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install elementary-theme elementary-icon-theme

Now all you have to do is go into your appearance settings (System->Preferences->Appearance) and then log out and log back in! Your new settings should not have been applied system wide.

Karmic Tunes for the Koala

Audio wise I have become a very big fan of Banshee recently, mainly thanks to their recent release of their latest version. I used to use Amarok but the recent 'reimaging' of it has lost me as a fan and up until now I have stayed with Rhythmbox music player which is the Ubuntu default. I know there are many others out there, but none just felt right. However Banshee is much more up my street and more then fills the hole left by Amarok, thus I highly recommend you giving it a try.

Karmic Ending

Except for that problem with the graphics I am highly impressed with seeing and using Ubuntu on a desktop and Karmic Koala works like a dream. One huge advantage is being able to play with the CompizConfig Settings Manager (both that and the friendlier 'simple' version are in System->Preferences if you installed via above) really allows me to get a feel for just how glorious Ubuntu looks on a desktop. The larger screen size is also a very welcome addition and I am starting to feel the need to fill it up, I think some experiments with different widgets could be occurring very soon.

I will admit that my initial response to Karmic back in October was a bit 'meh', but it is starting to make more sense now and with Ubuntu probably releasing their own version of an iTunes store with the next release together with many other stability tweaks, well, the future is looking very bright. Keep in mind that the next version, Ubuntu (10.04 Lucid Lynx), will be a Long Term Support (LTS) version that will be supported for 3 years (but a new LTS comes out every 2 years). So the step up from 9.10 to 10.04 feature wise will be a small one. I will probably be downloading an Alpha (testing) version in the coming weeks to help with testing of the next release, though the Koala has certainly gotten very attached to me so it will not be going anywhere until upgrade day in April.

Ubuntu...Linux for human beings.


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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Visualizing Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal

Great visualizing from the New York Times showing President Obama's 2011 budget, the chart is fully interactive and very informative. Will we look back and talk about the the 'big-budget freeze' of 2011? His gamble with deepening the deficit to stimulate job growth will have to be macro-managed better then the previous stimulus or these could go very badly, especially in regards to the US influence around the globe.

clipped from
Rectangles in the chart are sized according to the amount of spending for that category. Color shows the change in spending from 2010.

Chart shows funds authorized to be spent each fiscal year. It does not show "off-setting receipts" — items like postage stamp sales, park fees, Medicare prescription drug premiums and federal agency contributions to employee retirement plans — that are counted as negative budget authority. Off-setting receipts are included in the totals for each category. Chart breakdown is by function, not agency.

 blog it

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