June 2009 Archives

Review: Kindle DX vs. iPhone Kindle App


My first experience with the Kindle was through the iPhone App, which was a pretty positive experience; it is more or less, the Kindle experience on an iPhone. Lately, I've been using the Kindle app extensively for reading, and decided to purchase a Kindle DX; this is their "magazine-size" e-reader, and it measures about the size of a narrow magazine. The Kindle DX is remarkably light, and feels solid; the pixel density is 160 dpi, which matches that of the iPhone.

Because I've been using the iPhone for reading Kindle materials, the controls are a bit different on the DX; there are a series of buttons along the right side of the screen which serve as the buttons to turn the page, open the menu, home and go back, and a multi-directional joystick as well as a physical keyboard along the bottom; the keyboard buttons are incredibly tiny, and the large e-paper display is covered with a matte finish antiglare screen.

In some ways, the experience of reading on an iPhone is superior to reading on a Kindle; the limited shades of gray make color illustrations dithered, and my biggest problem in converting thus far is that I keep wanting to touch the screen to turn the page or highlight terms in the dictionary, instead of using the appropriate buttons. I think the Kindle holds tremendous promise, it has many useful features such as the built-in dictionary, and the very odd text-to-speech voice function. Notes and bookmarks are semiuseful, though I simply abhor using the keyboard; While I applaud their use of using an USB cable to charge the Kindle, the USB connector type is micro-USB, vs. the more standard mini-USB which more often used for cameras, cellphones and PS3 controllers.

The Kindle DX features rotation, which is practically never used due to the design of the ebook reader, the placement of the buttons makes it difficult to in any other orientation other than portrait. The adjustable font size is nice, though there are no selections of font style, and the configuration options of the Kindle are abysmal; one has the option of naming the device, and registering the device, adding personal info, and changing the list of e-mail addresses allowed to e-mail your Kindle. Menus are location-sensitive; the menu in the Home page is different from the menu on the book pages. The iPhone Kindle App has the same limited settings as the DX.

The one big difference that I appreciate in the iPhone Kindle App is that with page turning, it feels much more natural than the Kindle DX; the page simply slides, while on the Kindle DX, there is a brief flash as the e-paper wipes it contents from the page and places the next content; the text however is very clear; while not quite print-quality crispness, it does come very close to matching print when it is larger; the smaller font sizes still feel more crisp than computer font, but not by much.


While the Kindle platform does hold some promise; one wonders if an enlarged iPhone would in fact work just as well as a Kindle, if not better; while there isn't really much need in color for reading books, and yet the iPhone Kindle App handles it so well by having a selection of page background colors and adjusting the text color to match; the Kindle DX feels too much like a device from the 1980s without color, and doing color would allow for Amazon to be able to sell their downloadable media content for use on the device as well. While I think the Kindle does have some usefulness in reading books; particularly big, heavy tomes, it feels like a proof of concept product; the Kindle DX lacks security controls, privacy controls and content control, and there's no way to set the timer for screensaver mode (or even a way to blank it out to a specific screensaver as far as I can tell).

The Kindle DX includes a very basic web browser, one which is capable of handling text, but the Kindle DX is very clearly not designed for it; the lack of colons and backslashes on the physical keyboard make the entry of URLs really difficult, and the number keys require ALT key presses; the Kindle DX also includes an MP3 player, but I find the location of the headphone jack somewhat cumbersome (it's located on the top center of the device) and the control involve an arcane combination of keypresses to activate and play.

One thing I noticed as soon as I received the box was just how environmentally friendly the packaging was -- nearly every component of the packaging was paper or cardboard; the notable exception was the plastic cover to protect the screen, and the little sticker which held it down; no other piece of the packaging was plastic; not a single plastic bag was found within, no styrofoam or polystyrene.

The Kindle DX still feels like a work in progress, and it's for that reason that I say that it isn't for everyone; for frequent travelers or those who just want an e-reader that can download the latest book from the ether, it's great; no longer will I hurt my arms and shoulders carrying around an backpack loaded with books; but at the same time, when you look and use the Kindle DX and the iPhone Kindle Reader; you see what the experience could be in a few years; and compared to what is available now, the Kindle DX still feels like it has a long way to go.

Vegan Restaurants and Vegan Meats Sometimes Not Quite Vegan

quarrygirl.com recently went through Operation Pancake, in which they undercover investigated nearly two dozen vegan restaurants in Los Angeles looking for traces of eggs, milk and shellfish in a selection of takeout foods; what they discovered is that most fake meats used in vegan cuisine usually contains amounts of egg and/or milk, due to most of it coming from Taiwan -- which has a slightly different definition of what "vegetarian" entails. Not all ingredients are listed on Taiwanese products, and additionally, the translation process of ingredients from Chinese to English isn't always complete.

In Taiwan, the bulk of the vegetarian meat market are Buddhists, who don't eat meat or onions; products from animals such as eggs and milk are still allowed to be consumed. Taiwan, being one the major manufacturer of mock meats, has decided to enact new legislation which will label vegetarian foods more strictly. They will be classified into five types:

  • Pure Vegetarian -- this is for the Buddhists -- no meat, garlic or onions.
  • Contains No Meat, No Egg
  • Contains No Meat, No Milk
  • Vegetarian - Contains No Meat
  • Vegan - Contains No Meat, No Egg and No Milk

Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

When the animated Transformers film came out in the 80s, my father and I went to see it. For me, the movie was if they had made a really long episode of Transformers, with celebrity voices. I was young at the time, and didn't see the big deal in getting Orson Welles to do the voice of the giant planet-devouring Unicron, or Leonard Nimoy as the voice of the reborn Decepticon Leader Galvatron. It was the robots that I came to theater to see -- my favorites like Optimus Prime, Hound and Ironhide, and within the first ten minutes of the movie, in no uncertain terms, those characters were gone. Instead of sticking with the familiar robots that we had seen coming to Earth and taking on the disguises of humanity's machines and following their adventures, the animated movie was a huge reset button, and the characters for the most part were all new.

After coming out of the theater I asked my father what he thought of it, and he said "I couldn't tell the robots apart -- who were the good guys, and which ones were the bad guys? After a while, I fell asleep, so I had a nice nap."

Michael Bay already pressed the big giant reset button when he decided to make Transformers a live-action movie; prior to the release of the first movie, I wondered how they could make humans relevant; the movie may be about robots, but you can't have a two-hour long movie about cgi-robots fighting each other over dominion of the planet without showing the effect on the human population of the planet.

One would think after the chaos caused by the climatic battle of the Transformers in downtown LA at the finish of the first movie that the entire world would know about the Transformers, but it turns out that the majority of the population know nothing about them, and as a matter of fact, have successfully covered it up; the first glimpse we see of the Transformers we know is a battle in Shanghai, but just as my father had trouble distinguishing the good robots from the evil ones so long ago, so it was with the robots in this movie; the Autobots are Crayola colored, while the evil Decepticons are all silver with red eyes. The plot revolves around a shard of the Cube that survived, and is now part of Sam Witwicky's mind, and Decepticons chase Sam, and much running, screaming and explosions ensue.

Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a typical Michael Bay movie; explosions, the U.S. Armed Forces, and lots of cgi battles. As a followup to the first Transformers movie; it's really the Optimus Prime / Shia LaBeouf / Megan Fox movie, the other robots have little need to appear, much less speak except to force the plot forward or provide comic relief.

Impressively, the 5-day box office taking of 201.2 million comes close to matching last year's The Dark Knight which took home 203.8 million in the same amount of time.

Going Green: Bye Bye Non-stick Cookware!

Today, I started the process of getting rid of my non-stick cookware; while I would like to say I got rid of all my non-stick cookware, this is simply not true; while the bulk of the pots and pans are gone, I suspect that I still have non-stick coated cooking items still littered about the kitchen, and probably a wayward pot or pan that I missed.

My initial understanding of the dangers of non-stick coating were somewhat inaccurate; while I had believed that the health hazards were only a problem if the coating became chipped, it turns out that scratches in the coating are just as dangerous; apparently, even scratched, when heated has the potential to kill birds and cause flu-like symptoms in humans. While it was previously thought that the coating would only break down if heating temperatures exceeded 350F, it turns out that a pan sitting on a stove can exceed that temperature in a matter of minutes.

Non-stick materials are typically manufactured using PFCs such as Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), a key processing agent in the production of non-stick and stain resistant materials, and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which was a key ingredient in Scotchgard.

Additionally, a recent study at UCLA found that perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) may be associated with infertility in women.

"Our data showed that higher proportions of women reported irregular menstrual periods in the upper three quartiles of PFOA and PFOS compared with the lowest, and so this could indicate a possible pathway."

The cookware I was using were non-stick coated aluminum pans, so I was also in danger of increasing my intake of aluminum anytime I cook with either basic (potatoes) or acidic (tomatoes) foods. Studies have shown that aluminum cookware leaches 3-6 mg aluminum per 100 g serving of tomato sauce. There is also some possibility that aluminum intake and onset of alzheimer's disease are related.

I hate throwing things away when it can be reused or recycled, but pots and pans are not something most curbside recycling would do anything with, which lead me on my quest to find a place that would take pots and pans for recycling, which lead me all the way to Oakland, to a place called Schnitzer Steel.

How To Display Battery Life as a Percentage on iPhone 3G S

One of the new features of the iPhone 3G S is the ability to display battery life as a percentage:

Within the Settings Application is actually a slider to switch it on.

  1. Open the Settings App.
  2. Go to Usage.
  3. Slide Battery Percentage to ON.

Sony's PlayStation 3 is no budget console

When Amazon last week offered the 80GB PlayStation 3 as a Gold Box item, I snatched one up; it arrived the next day, and I spent the next couple of days deciding if I was going to return it.

The problem with the Playstation 3 is a dearth of good exclusive games; when the games industry decided to do cross-platform development of all the major titles, it also made the choice of game console largely irrelevant, as the experience of playing a Xbox version of the game is not substantially different than playing the same game on a Nintendo Wii.

When the Playstation 3 was released in November of 2006, I noted that the price put it out of range of all but the most hardcore of gamers, and that the launch titles failed to have a strong killer app; nearly 3 years later, the PS3 still lacks the killer app, although the game library of the PS3 has grown, it still does not match the catalogs of the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360. Activision's Bobby Kotick has warned Sony that without a price cut on the system that they may be pulling support for the Sony consoles:

"...the PlayStation 3 is losing a bit of momentum and they don't make it easy for me to support the platform. It's expensive to develop for the console, and the Wii and the Xbox are just selling better. Games generate a better return on invested capital on the Xbox than on the PlayStation".

The strength of the PS3 these days seems firmly entrenched in its ability to be more than just a game console; it is an all-in-one media entertainment center; it plays DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and even has the ability to access photos, videos, and music over the network. The Playstation 3, is in fact a somewhat impressive machine; while game consoles have always been a sort of single purpose computer, this current generation of consoles improves on that idea, and they essentially become the computers of the living room.

Of course, the biggest improvement is in the hi-def nature of the PS3 -- the Blu-ray player is probably where the bulk of the value of the PS3 lies, as Blu-ray players still average around $300. Those who are planning on purchasing a Blu-ray player for their HDTV would probably do better by purchasing a PS3, and the PlayStation 3 Blu-ray Remote Control (~$20).

While the current PS3 consoles on the market do not retain PS2 compatibility,the PS3 does allow for play of PS One games, and there are plenty of downloadable casual games available for the PS3 (sadly, no RPGs, although the handheld market has them in spades). My first purchase was Noby Noby Boy, a game from the creator of the bizarre cult classic Katamari Damacy. The process was relatively painless; though the Playstation Network Store works on the idea of wallet system; you first put money in the wallet either via credit card, or through buying Playstation Network Card for a set amount of money; these are in increments of full dollars, while the games on the PSN end in .99, leaving $0.01 for Sony to collect interest on.

iPhone 3G S

With Apple able to ship out the iPhone 3G S, and do in-home activation, the lines at Apple Stores were not nearly as bad as the lines in 2007. The process hails a return to the iTunes activation, which requires the latest version of iTunes, but within 3 minutes, the iPhone is activated, and very shortly the phone is useable. In upgrading from the original iPhone, I backed up the contents, and then restored to the new iPhone 3G S. The only oddity? Programs purchased via iPhone rather than iTunes didn't transfer over. Whether this is due to them being limited time only downloads or not being fully compatible on an OS 3.0 iPhone, I have no idea, and will investigate further.

The iPhone screen feels a lot more slick and shiny than the original, and does not smudge as easily (although the glossy plastic casing picks up dust like you wouldn't believe, and such things are more visible on the white than the black).

update:Another oddity; Visual Voicemail seems to have disappeared on my iPhone.

Update 2: If you call 611, you can reset the password for voicemail for your phone, doing so will also enable the Visual Voicemail setup screen on your iPhone.

Review: The Taking of Pelham 123

The Taking of Pelham 123, based on John Godey's novel "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" is about the fictional hijacking of a subway car in New York City; those who have seen the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three may prefer the 1974 classic, but this remake has been updated with the NYC of the twenty-first century in mind.

Denzel Washington stars as Walter Garber, a subway dispatcher on duty when Pelham 123 is hijacked, and John Travolta plays Ryder, the leader of the hijackers. There's some intense and violent scenes, and for the most part the movie is gripping and suspenseful enough to keep things interesting. What I am somewhat disappointed with is that they manage to bring these two talented actors together for this movie, but that they spend the majority of movie speaking to each other through the radio; once again Travolta reprises a role that has become far too cliche -- the villain's voice on the other end of the line.


How To Sort Garbage in San Francisco


Total Cost of Ownership of an iPhone 3GS

iPhoneiPhone 3GiPhone 3G S
Unlimited Data$20$30$30
200 Text Messages0$5$5
AT&T 450 (monthly) $40$40$40
AT&T 450 (2 years) $960$960$960
Data Plan and 200 Messages (2 years)$480$840$840
Original Price$499/$599$199/$299$199/$299
Total Cost of Ownership$1939/$2039$1999/$2099$1999/$2099
In upgrading from an iPhone 3G to a iPhone 3G S, customers outside the upgrade period will incur an additional $200 fee (in addition to extending their contract another 2 years). Existing AT&T Customers also need to pay $36 for an Activation and Upgrade fee. Having no text message plan would reduce the total cost of ownership of the 3G and 3G S iPhones by $120.

WWDC 2009 Announcements

At the WWDC today, Apple started off with a bunch of new hardware releases.

New unibody MacBook Pros

  • $300 less
  • Faster Processors
  • More RAM - 8GB
  • Non-removable battery
  • SD Card instead of ExpressCard
  • $1,699US: 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M graphics, 250GB HDD
  • $1,999US: 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT graphics, 320GB
  • $2,299US: 2.80GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT graphics, 500GB HDD
New 13" MacBook Pro
    This is essentially a rebranded MacBook unibody with the new built-in battery and SD card slot.
  • $1,199US: 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M graphics, 160GB HDD
  • $1,499US: 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M graphics, 250GB HDD
MacBook Air:
  • $1,499US: 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M graphics, 120GB HDD
  • $1,799US: 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB DDR3 RAM, GeForce 9400M graphics, 128GB SSD
Snow Leopard:
  • $29 Single User, $49 Family Pack
  • Handwriting Recognition
  • Exchange 2007 Support
  • Tethering
  • MMS
iPhone 3GS
  • Twice as Fast as iPhone 3G
  • 3 MP autofocus camera - also does video
  • 7.2Mbps HSDPA
  • Voice Control
  • Nike+ support
  • Hardware Encryption
  • Better Battery Life: 5 hours 3G talk time, 9 hours of WiFI internet.
  • $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB.
  • June 19 Release Date
  • iPhone 3G 8 GB stays on market for $99

iPhone 3.0 tomorrow?

If the rumors are believed to be true, Apple is announcing (and subsequently releasing) the next iPhone iteration tomorrow morning after the keynote.

Features rumored are longer battery life, faster speed, and video capability. Size is rumored to be 16GB and 32GB, and Apple may reduce the price of the existing iPhone 3G even further, such as $99 for the previous generation 8GB.

Ever since I cracked the screen on my first-gen iPhone, I've been waiting anxiously for this next revision, and looking forward to upgrading; some are so certain that an upgrade is due that theyll be lined up in front of the Apple store tomorrow morning to be amongst the first to get their new phones. Some are waiting for the announcement to decide whether or not to purchase Palm's recently released Pre.

A few weeks ago I was asked what I thought of the Pre -- for me, a good cellphone is more than the hardware, it also has to have good software too, and that is where the Pre fails -- Palm is at this moment, where Apple was two years ago -- a cellphone with only one provider in the U.S. Palm has an App Store too for the Pre, but there are many more Apps on the iPhone, and the Pre is lacking what I find to be an invaluable feature of the iPhone: Visual Voicemail. The Pre, on the other hand, has a hardware keyboard; something the iPhone lacks; while those who are transitioning from a Treo or a Blackberry have a harder time with the iPhone keyboard; those of use transitioning from no keyboard have a very easy time with the iPhone keyboard; and so the learning curve is steeper for Palm/Blackberry people. Ultimately, the Pre will cater to the niche market of former Treo/Blackberry people, while the iPhone grows the market of smartphone users*. The iPhone is doing what few thought it could do -- not only did the iPhone get people to switch from smartphone to iPhone, but it made the smartphone accessible and usable by everyone.

* In gaming terms, the Pre is Everquest 2, while the iPhone is World of Warcraft. Everquest 2 released about two weeks prior to World of Warcraft, and it was thought at the time that the Massively Multiplayer Online Game market was a closed niche; that in order to get a subscriber, a subscriber must be taken from another online game. This proved to be false, as World of Warcraft not only took the niche audience, but pulled in the general audience as well.

Chrome for Mac (and Linux)