Posts Tagged 'Amazon.com'

Nook vs Kindle: The Story of My Personal Decision

A Picture of a eBook

Image via Wikipedia

Ever since before we pre-ordered my wife’s first generation Barnes and Noble nook two years ago (probably even two years ago today since it first shipped November 30, 2009), I knew that I wanted an ebook reader that did not use a back-lit screen.

Back then I was aware that Sony and a few other companies already had expensive devices on the market that made use of the e-ink screen technologies I had read about a few years prior in Popular Science, and I had followed the release of the Amazon Kindle closely. This was a technology I knew I would use because I love to read, I love using gadgets, and I can’t read from a back-lit screen for too long before my eyes grow tired. As much as I love reading real books, the fact is that I get lazy about carrying around a whole book. I worry about tearing or creasing pages. And oddly enough, I have a sensitivity issue with paper.

Every once in a while, physical contact with paper is somehow registered as pain on my skin. I always loved to write, but my writing didn’t flourish until I could abandon the pain of resting my palm on paper and take up the keyboard. I have tried using gloves, lotion, petroleum jelly… You name it. Paper hurts my skin. Not all the time, but sometimes it’s so bad it becomes unbearable.

So I knew I needed an ebook reader.

I tend to shun products that quickly dominate a market and garner an almost cult following (ehem: iProducts).  I try to promote “the other guys” when it comes to making technology purchases, especially when the difference between the less popular product and the insanely popular product is negligible. And the Kindle had just about become such a product in the months leading up to the release of the nook.

Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

Image via Wikipedia

And so when Barnes and Noble announced the nook, I poured over the facts and decided that the  nook was a worthy competitor for the Kindle. When my wife expressed an interest in getting a nook or a Kindle, I helped her look at both as objectively as possible. In the end, she liked the openness of the Android platform, the fact that the nook would take the EPUB format, and she even liked that the nook offered competition for the Kindle. She opted for the nook, and we haven’t at any point in time regretted that decision.

So I guess a part of me always assumed I would get a nook. And recently, my desire to read and my desire to avoid touching paper books collided again and I found myself in a Barnes and Noble store holding the newest nook Simple Touch ereader. I loved it. Dark bevel (I heard once that the darker finish helped increase the perceived contrast of the e-ink screen). Slim profile. Compact design. Touch screen. And the price wasn’t bad at $150 (this was a month ago or so, before all the price changes).

I made the decision to get it. I knew that as the holidays got closer prices might go down, and I knew that some of my relatives might send money. I was too poor to just take the thing to the checkout then and there, but I knew I had a nook Simple Touch in my reading future.

It was just a matter of time.

Then Amazon did something crazy. They released an extremely similar product, at a lower price, with an ugly silver bevel. No worries. I still wanted the nook. But the Kindle was cheaper. But the nook had the dark bevel, and I was sure Barnes and Noble would match Amazon’s price soon enough (and I was right). So I stuck with my determination to get the nook.

Then Amazon did something else. They announced the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Essentially, it meant that I, as an Amazon Prime member, would have access to hundreds of bestselling books for free. Sure, it’s only one at a time, once a month. But these are not books that can be read for free on the nook. Most of them won’t even be on the library network where you can borrow books for free. And as a slow reader, I appreciate that the new Amazon service doesn’t have a due date. I can borrow the book indefinitely. This is a big deal for me.

But is it worth reading on a device with an ugly silver bevel?

Maybe.

So at this point my decision to purchase a nook wasn’t quite as solid. I had doubts. Also, somewhere in there I realized that the Kindle no longer held a firm, ridiculously popular grip in the ereader market. I realized that I wouldn’t have to feel like buying a Kindle was really just a pitiful cry for social help.

It was time to do what I do best: crunch some numbers.

I have used spreadsheets to analyze many things, and I knew that a spreadsheet could help me resolve this conflict. So I went to my bookshelves at home and wrote down the titles of almost forty of my favorite books that I already own (shamefully, a few of which remain unread). Then I went to my Amazon wishlist full of hundreds of books that have been recommended to me, or that I had planned on purchasing and reading in the future. All in all, I assembled a list of 103 books that were all relevant to my interests.

I decided that whichever service provided the greatest selection of books that I would be interested in reading would win. I put the list of books into the spreadsheet, then began pulling prices from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the ebook versions.

Keep in mind that I put the spreadsheet together quickly, without doing a bunch of digging around. I went with the price for the first version that popped up, I didn’t do searches for variations or special editions or anything of the sort. I searched, I clicked, I got the price. That was it.

Oh, and I didn’t include expensive ebooks in my average price calculations. To me, any ebook that costs more than $20 should be ignored. If it’s that expensive but you just have to read it, find the hard copy in a library or check ebay.

Behold: MY SPREADSHEET.

I found out a couple of things right away. First, I have spent so much time on Amazon making music, movie, game, and grocery  purchases that I am way more comfortable with Amazon than I am with Barnes and Noble. I love going to a Barnes and Noble store in person, but I found their website nearly offensive in some cases. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I found so distasteful, but navigating it felt like trying to ride a bike through a rock garden, even after searching for 103 titles.

Second, and this one is important, I realized that Amazon does digital distribution better than Barnes and Noble. Amazon makes the entire process easier for me. Finding the books I wanted was easier and faster on Amazon, and since I already have an intimate relationship with them, the process for purchasing a book from them was easier (I found this out while trying to get free ebooks as a test of the system).

The results of the spreadsheet war? Amazon had 72 of my target titles in their Kindle library (69.9%) at an average price of $9.35 per title. Barnes and Noble had 63 of my target titles in their nook library (61.2%) at an average price of $9.32 per title. I found one book in the nook library that was less expensive than the version I found on Amazon. There were nine books that I found on Amazon that were not available for the nook. Not a single book from my list was only available for the nook.

All this meant that owning a Kindle would mean having access to all of the books I wanted to read in the nook library, plus some that I wanted to read that I couldn’t read on a nook, and it meant that I would have access to a constantly changing list of bestsellers that I could borrow for free indefinitely, in addition to all of the free books nook and Kindle can access equally (Project Gutenberg, the OverDrive library loaning network, and others).

Even with only a difference of 9 books between the services, a clear winner had emerged for me.

And since aesthetics are never a primary factor in my decision-making process, the Kindle Touch won by a landslide based on the Amazon architecture.

Plus, if the silver bevel does become a problem, I can always get a darker skin decal or a rubberized cover.

So last week I placed my pre-order, and today Amazon began shipping the devices, a whole week early.

I am very happy with my decision. I would promise a full review after I get it in the mail, but I’m afraid that I will be doing a lot more reading than writing.

New Computer? – Start Here

**EDIT**

If you’re just looking for a list of free software to install on your computer, I’ve created a Springpad notebook full of links to my favorites. If I find anything else to add, I’ll put it there.

I want to start out by saying that I am just a guy. I wasn’t paid to write any of this, I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned, and these are all just my opinions. If any of the mentioned companies wanted to pay me because I wrote all these nice things about them, I’d be willing to talk to them about an arrangement. 😉

Having said that, here are the chronicles of my recent adventure procuring and setting up my new laptop. I’m going to break this down into three separate categories: Hardware, Pre-installed Software you Don’t Need, and Free Software you Might Need. Lucky for you, I’m all about free, open-source and simplicity; so the only part that I spent money on was the hardware.

I’ve designed this as a sort of guide to assist YOU in purchasing and setting up a new computer. People are always looking at my glasses. After they get a good look at my glasses, they say, “Hey, I need a new computer. What kind should I get?” People with new computers are always asking me, “Is it better to just use Internet Explorer, or should I get one of those new browsers?” Also, it has been my own experience that just using all of the default software (that ships with the system) for document editing, virus handling, and many other tasks is a bad idea. So, here are all of my answers and tips in one place. This may not be the definitive guide to getting a new computer, but it is MY definitive guide for those who need it.

So, without further chit-chat, let’s look at your hardware options.

HARDWARE

This one’s easier than you might be inclined to believe. Sure there are a lot of choices, but it all comes down to what you want to use the computer for.

The computer I wanted this time around was a laptop I could actually take places. Last time I got a laptop (over five years ago) it weighed ten pounds, it was more of a desktop replacement and cost me over two thousand dollars. Now I’ve got a desktop, and I wanted an inexpensive computer that could go places with me AND do stuff. I’ve got an Asus eee PC (a netbook), but that thing can’t really do stuff. I mean, it can do some stuff (I use it for NaNoWriMo every year), but it’s a little wimpy when it comes to multitasking and other processor/RAM intensive activities.

The Argument for Desktops

First, if you’ve got the space for it and you don’t need to move it, get a desktop. Laptops have really gone down in price lately, but an equivalent (as far as hardware and capabilities) desktop will always cost less than its laptop counterpart (as of this writing).

Desktops have the greatest range in options as well. You can get a cheap-o system that is really only good for running your web browser and a word processor for under a hundred dollars, or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for systems that can perform at speeds rivaling supercomputers. No matter what you’ll be using the desktop for, you can always find a system that perfectly meets your needs without spending more than you have to. Always.

The first step in selecting a desktop is to imagine yourself using that computer for the next two years. What will you use it for? Do you play many games? You might need to spend more for a system that will be compatible with future game releases. Will you be hooking it up to your TV to watch shows and movies? There are a lot of media center pc options. If you’re a Mac person (which, I might be if I had more money), you might want an Apple TV rather than a new computer.

Just decide what you’ll need the computer to be able to do, and consider these simple guidelines (which, unless you’re a “power user,” will more than cover the basics). I don’t need to say it, but if you know enough about computers to know that these guidelines aren’t comprehensive, then these guidelines weren’t written for you.

  • RAM – For most users, this is arguably the most important decision. More RAM means faster, smoother, more powerful computing. You want to open and use every program installed on your computer at the same time? You need lots of RAM. Will you only do one thing at a time for the rest of the time you own the computer? You can get by with 2 Gigs or less (depending on that one program you’ll be running!).
  • Operating System Bits – Related to RAM, but separate, is the operating system you’ll be using. Right away I have to mention that a 32 bit operating system cannot handle a full 4 Gigabytes of RAM, and certainly not more. If you will want 4 Gigs or more of RAM, you’ll need a 64 bit OS. Otherwise, 32 vs 64 bits will not have much of an impact on you.
  • Operating System Flavor – Which OS you choose will depend on many factors, but at the risk of bringing on hoards of criticism, I’m going to go ahead and simplify things this way: If you’re lost when it comes to choosing your operating system, just get Windows 7. Sure, Macs are simple, but getting software for them can be a hassle. Windows may have a poor track-record when it comes to stability and ease of use, but I’m putting a lot of faith in Windows 7, and I think it’s a safe choice for YOU. If you know you want a Mac though, please get it!
  • Processor – When it comes to desktops, you’re really only going to concern yourself with how many cores and processors you want. Adding processors and cores means better ability to process multiple instructions at a time (translating to blazing speed and excellent multitasking), while a single core on a single processor will more than meet the needs of most users. Don’t get the fancy processor set-up unless you know you need it. For most modern operating systems and software, though, I recommend at least a single processor with dual cores. More than that and you’d better be doing some serious video editing or 3D graphics (like games).
  • Hard Drive – If you’re doing video editing or if you’re archiving your DVD collection on the hard drive, get something huge. If you’re just surfing the Internet and writing papers in Word, you don’t need much hard drive space. Even the smallest hard drives shipping these days are more than ample for the average user. Note that media center systems should have more hard drive space to store videos or recorded television.

Sure, there are more factors than just these to consider, but if you’re not a power user who already knows about the other factors, then you don’t need to worry about them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you here.

The only other thing I would caution is to avoid brands you’re not familiar with and be wary of prices that are significantly lower than competing systems with similar capabilities. Your desktop shouldn’t be too expensive, but don’t be a cheapskate once you know what you want. Just pay what the trusted manufacturers are charging.

I currently use a first generation HP TouchSmart for my desktop, and it’s held up very well in the two years we’ve owned it. Both of my laptops are Toshibas, and we love them. Namebrand systems are always a good bet.

Where Desktops Fail

The only problem with a desktop is that it is not very portable. Sure, some of the newer CPU box form-factors (especially in the case of media center computers) are very small and lightweight. However, the screen and input devices are not built in, thus to use the system it must be hooked up to these things, and to move it you have to unplug everything. Convenient? No.

So what if you really need something you can take to class with you? You need either a laptop or a netbook. Can’t decide which one? Consider this:

I thought I could get a netbook and do the same things with it as I do with my laptop. I was wrong. Even with a full size keyboard attached and an external mouse, the netbook screens are too small to be practical in a number of applications. For a true, natural computing experience, you’ll still want a larger system. They make laptops that are much closer in size (and price) to netbooks, but they are much more convenient. If you’re not sure about getting a netbook, don’t. Just go for a smaller laptop. I promise you’ll be happy with it.

If you know you want a netbook, get it. If you’re not sure, don’t. You’ve got to be committed to liking your netbook, or you’re going to hate it.

Other than the netbook vs laptop decision, there isn’t a whole lot more to think about. How portable do you want it? There are a range of sizes from 13 inches to over 18 inches for screens. Some are less than an inch thin, and others have huge 12 cell batteries that lift them about three inches off your table top. Some run hot from having their hardware crammed in to a small space, while others have minimal hardware configurations and are quiet and cool. Again, the considerations for desktops will all hold true for laptops, but you might want to consider the following IN ADDITION to the desktop suggestions:

  • Overall Size – You’re getting a laptop because a desktop isn’t portable enough for you, but how portable do you need your laptop to be? If you are still just going to leave it set up in one place for long periods of time, you might consider a larger desktop replacement laptop. These systems offer the same performance as a desktop, at often competitive prices, but at the end of the day the screen folds up and you can pack it away in a bag. Expect these to weigh close to ten pounds though! Then there are the ultra portables that weigh in at under five pounds (mine weighs like three pounds!). Keep in mind that a netbook can weigh close to one pound, but you’ve already decided you want a laptop, right?
  • Battery Size/Usage – Some laptops these days are being designed as marathon machines. They can squeeze almost a full day of usage out of a single charge, but that efficiency comes at a price (both in dollars and performance). Most laptops are designed to fully contain a six cell battery, but by doubling the number of cells to twelve (and subsequently, increasing the size of the battery pack itself, causing it to protrude out the back or bottom of the computer), you can double the life of the battery. Also, Intel and AMD make processors specifically designed to use less power. They usually run at far less than 2 Gigahertz, and they cannot handle too many big tasks like gaming and video editing as well. You could try, but if that’s what you need the system for (primarily) you’ll just have to charge the system more often.
  • USB Ports – If you use a lot of devices at once, you’ll need at least three USB ports. I always recommend using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop whenever possible simply because they can be replaced much easier than the built-in devices. The less you use them, the less likely they are to break. So, with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, you will want to have at least one more USB port for external hard drives, thumb drives, cameras or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few laptops only have two ports (one on each side), most have three, and a few have up to five USB ports. Get as many as you can without spending too much just for that feature. Also keep in mind that some USB devices have a special “Y” shaped cable that plugs into two USB ports. If you might need one of these devices, you’ll want a laptop with two USB ports that are close together, not one on each side.

In my most recent purchase, I wanted something far more portable than my old laptop but more capable than a netbook. I went with a Toshiba Satellite, ultra thin system. This particular system (like most ultra thin, lightweight systems) does not have an optical drive (no DVD or CD drive). That wasn’t an issue for me because I knew that all of the software I could ever need I was going to download for free once I got it connected to the Internet. If you install a lot of software from disks but still want a system like mine, there are some great external drives that will meet your needs. I may end up getting one too so I can watch movies on my laptop, but for now I’m fine without an optical drive.

Accessories

The final hardware consideration is, what else do you need? Some people need lots of storage but end up choosing a laptop with a smaller hard drive. In that case, just get an external hard drive. Do you transfer a lot of files between systems? Get a thumb drive. Actually, I recommend that people get thumb drives even if they don’t need them for transferring files. They make a great place to keep backups of your most important files.

Keyboard:

The only thing I know you’ll need if you got a laptop is a mouse and keyboard. There’s no getting around it – using the laptop keyboard puts wear on it that could eventually require maintenance. If you use an external keyboard, and it breaks, you can just unplug it and get another one. My favorite typing keyboard ever (that I’ve used anyhow) is the Logitech Classic Keyboard 200. It currently sells for $13.99 on Amazon.com, it is comfortable, and I’ve never had any problems with it. I love it.

Mouse:

I do recommend spending a little more for your external mouse though. Touch pads are great for basic navigation and occasional clicking, but nothing beats a scroll wheel on the Internet, and when doing graphics work or gaming you just can’t live without a mouse. My current favorite is the Microsoft Explorer series. Specifically, my wife and I love our Explorer Mini mice. Amazon.com sells them for about $40, they retail for about $60, and there is currently a vendor on Amazon that is selling them for under $20 (with $4 shipping). The great thing about the Explorer mice is that they will track on literally anything but glass and mirrors (although in some tests these mice have actually tracked on glass and mirrors!). We can use them on shag carpet, glossy surfaces, pitted surfaces, hair, clothing, anything at all, and more. If you want a great mouse, Microsoft actually has a great product.

PRE-INSTALLED SOFTWARE YOU DON’T NEED

All computers come with what is lovingly called “bloat-ware.” This is software that people pay the manufacturer to include pre-installed from the factory. In some ways I guess it’s good because I’d like to think that the money they earn from that endeavor goes toward keeping costs lower for me, but I rather doubt it.

Anyhow, the first program I highly suggest you uninstall (if it’s installed) is Norton Anti-Virus. Many computers come with it pre-installed along with an offer for a whole year or month or day of free updates. It’s not worth it. Microsoft has a free program you can download right away that does the same thing (well, roughly the same thing).

To get rid of Norton (or any program, for that matter), just go to the control panel and look for “Add/Remove Programs” or something like that. Find the offender, click “uninstall,” and follow the directions. Most virus protection software will require that you restart after removing it. That’s OK.

Now, I don’t recommend you leave your computer virus-protection-free for long. It is a dangerous thing. So once you’ve finished uninstalling the crud you don’t need, make sure you immediately download the “essential” software I have listed below, in the order I’ve listed them.

First though, look for any programs that say “offer” or “setup” next to them and get rid of them (still in the Add/Remove Software tool). Also, some systems (most Toshibas and HPs) come with some kind of game portal that you should get rid of.

Many people will tell you to get rid of a lot more than this, but it’s not always necessary. After you’ve been using the computer for a month or so, go back to the Add/Remove Software tool and look over the list. If you recognize the program and you know you use it a lot, don’t get rid of it. If you recognize it and you know you don’t use it a lot, get rid of it (just make sure you know what it does first!). Everything else is probably OK to leave installed.

FREE SOFTWARE YOU MIGHT NEED

Some of these are more essential than others. I’ll categorize them to simplify this. In some cases it won’t matter what program you get as long as you get something that does the job. So, if you’re ready to get started, open Internet Explorer (unless your system came with another browser pre-installed, in which case you should DEFINITELY use the other one!).

Note: This list is designed for Windows users ONLY. Many of these programs are cross platform, but I’m not going to say which ones because I’m not making this list for Mac users. Sorry guys. Maybe another time.

Essential Software

These are programs that you will need to get – almost everyone needs these programs. Right away, before downloading anything, you need virus protection!

  • Virus Protection – Search for “Microsoft Security Essentials,” or go to http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/. Click on the big “Download Now” button, save the executable and run it. Make sure you have already removed any virus protection that shipped with your computer, then close your web browser while the program installs. Once it installs make sure it runs OK, then let it scan your system. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Since this is the first thing you’re doing on your new system, everything should be clean. After it scans your system, you may proceed with this list.
  • New Browser – DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. Sure, there are a lot of sites that require it, but I can show you how to get around that later. For now, just download one or both of the following browsers and try them out. You won’t miss Internet Explorer after a few days. I promise. My favorite is Google Chrome, but I was once a die-hard Firefox fan (I even have an embroidered FireFox shirt). They are both worlds better than IE, more secure, faster, and prettier. While I might catch some heat for this, I am going to recommend that you just get Google Chrome. It’s better. Once you’ve downloaded and selected a new browser, close Internet Explorer and never open it again (unless you really have to).
  • Free Office Software – While there are a few options for this, my favorite (and arguably the most user friendly and robust) is OpenOffice.org. Just go to their website in your new, shiny browser, and download. It’s that easy. The installation is easy and the program operates a lot like Microsoft Office. There are some differences, but OpenOffice.org can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do, and in some cases it does it better. If you ever find that OpenOffice.org just isn’t meeting your needs, feel free to go back to the Microsoft version, but I don’t think most people will ever need to.
  • Media Player – Windows Media Player is pretty good, but there are a lot of things it can’t handle. For everything else, there’s VLC. VLC can’t do everything, but I’ve never found a video it couldn’t play.
  • Photo Organizer – Since most people maintain some kind of image collection (from digital cameras, web graphics, etc.), you’ll probably want a good program to organize and lightly edit those photos. Google Picasa is a great product that is completely free and I recommend it to everyone.

Everything Else

Those, to me, represent the bare-bones necessities for a new computer. If you get nothing else, make sure you get those things. The remainder of my list is specific to my needs and wants, based on what I want to use the computer for. If you know of other great free programs that aren’t listed here, please add them in the comments.

  • Dropbox – This is a really cool file program. It creates a special folder that automatically backs itself up online any time you add or change files in the folder. If you install Dropbox on other computers and link them with your account, Dropbox will synchronize all of the folders across all of the computers and devices you have Dropbox installed on. I love it.
  • Notepad ++ – If you do any web development or coding the old fashioned way (in notepad) you might want to try Notepad ++. I found this little gem several years ago and have installed it on all of my computers ever since.
  • Skype – For video calls and VoIP, my favorite is still Skype. We’ve been using it for quite a while now and we love it.
  • Google Talk – Actually, I didn’t download the Talk program, I installed the Video and Voice plug-in. While most of our video chats are handled over Skype, we have more friends with Google accounts than Skype accounts. With this plug-in, I can have a video call with any Google Talk contact who is also using the plug-in or the desktop client. I’ve only done it once, and it was a long time ago, but this is a valuable thing to have on standby.
  • Google Earth – There’s nothing cooler than exploring your planet in 3D with a nearly infinitely scalable, detailed and textured model with Google Maps plastered all over it. This is as fun as it is useful.
  • Google SketchUp – I am a bit of a 3D hobbyist, and SketchUp is a great way to rapidly visualize a model. It’s a wildly different experience from most of the 3D software I’ve used, but once I got the hang of it I realize it was easier and more intuitive than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s free!
  • Blender – On the subject of 3D, how does a free 3D program with advanced features sound? SketchUp may be easy and fast, but it’s not anywhere near Blender’s level. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Blender is extremely un-intuitive to learn. However, I’ve seen what it can do, and I’m impressed enough to trudge over the learning curve and figure it out.
  • Paint.NET – If I’m going to make awesome 3D images in Blender, I’ll need software like Photoshop to make textures, composites, do touch-ups, and more. Windows Paint won’t do any of that. In fact, Paint is nearly useless. Luckily, there’s a better Paint. This program can do layers, adjustments, transparency and even some cool effects. Sure, there’s a lot that it can’t do, but it’s free. If it does what you need it to then you’ve lost nothing, right? I even made the cover for my new book entirely in Paint.NET.
  • Inkscape – Paint.NET can handle most of my 2D needs, but it is primarily for raster images (bitmaps). For vector images, I love Inkscape. It’s relatively easy to learn, and it can handle almost anything you can dream up.
  • GIMP – Many people believe GIMP capable of anything Photoshop can do. I don’t agree, but I do think GIMP is better than Paint.NET for more advanced jobs. A lot like Blender, I find GIMP hard to learn, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I want to learn it so I can see how long I can live without Photoshop. Someday I’ll be rich and it won’t matter. Until then, I’ll be struggling with GIMP.
  • WavePad – I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s a free audio editing tool that I hope will allow me to make simple audio tracks for animations or an audio book. We shall see. Once I’ve tried it, I’ll write a review (and link to it from here).
  • VideoPad – Like WavePad, I downloaded this to see if it would be suitable for creating simple promotional or family videos. I just want to be able to cut scenes together, edit things out and add simple effects. If this program is a winner, I’ll write a review.

CONCLUSION

I hope this helped. As I use my system and learn more about what programs are meeting my needs and which ones I don’t have that could help, I may modify this list.

I’m 100% sure of all of the hardware tips though, as well as the “essential software” bit. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of free programs out there that you can find that will do the same things that more expensive software can do. Look to the free stuff first, and if it doesn’t work out, pay for what you need.

Good luck and happy computing!

Author Page at Amazon

It’s official! I have an author page at Amazon.com. When people search for me or any of my books, a link to my page shows up. Anything I’ve written is listed, I’ve got a cute little biography there, and you can even see posts to this blog from there!

For now there’s not a whole lot else there. In the future I can list events like book signings or readings there, and if I ever do a video showing off my book, I’ll post it there. Discussion forums can be set up where I can respond to reader questions too. I hope some of you who are reading my book right now (or in the near future) will start discussions there on what you’re reading.

If this is your first time seeing my blog, I just wanted to provide you with a few links to some past articles you might enjoy.

Don’t forget to enter my book giveaway contest, and I look forward to interacting with readers through Amazon.com!

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NaNoWriMo 2009

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

So, I’m doing it again. I guess I’m going nuts. I’m going to try to write 50,000 words in under 30 days (last time it took me less than 25, this time I’m shooting for even better). You can see my NaNoWriMo profile page and read the synopsis of what I’ll be writing here.

Plus, I’ve given myself a new goal – I’m hoping to talk my wife into doing it. I know she wants to, I just have to figure out what’s holding her back. If she knows anything about me, it’s that once I’ve got an idea in my head, it’s nearly impossible to get me to let it go unless you can prove my logic to be fatally flawed (almost never happens).

Anyhow, I’m posting this as an official excuse for not posting anything else for at least the month of November (except a victory post when I finish!).

If you’ve ever enjoyed writing anything, you should head over to http://www.nanowrimo.org and enter yourself in this year’s competition. Don’t worry, you’re only competing against yourself, nobody else has to read what you write (in fact, you don’t even have to read what you write), and you don’t have to feel bad about not finishing.

Plus, if you do finish, Amazon is sponsoring the same prize they did last year through their site, CreateSpace. You get to see your finished novel in print form with a free proof copy! It’s really pretty neat, and if you approve the print version, you can put it up for sale for free also. So far, since January, I’ve sold exactly zero copies of my dumb story, but that’s no reason to stop writing. I’m going to keep on plugging away at the keyboard and see what I come up with this year.

Thanks for your support and you’ll hear from me again in roughly a month.

P.S. I would appreciate it if you’d keep in tight contact with me over Facebook in November if you can because I will be relying heavily on your crazy status posts and activities to fuel my inspiration for this year’s story!

RE: Chrome

Amazon knows almost everything about nearly every major purchase I’ve made in the last four years (or longer, I can’t even remember when I started shopping on Amazon). Google knows all about who I’ve been in touch with, what I’ve been looking at, looking for and reading all over the Internet for at least the last three years, but probably even longer since I was using their search engine shortly after they first appeared online about a decade ago.

And, until recently (just today, actually), Firefox has been quietly and dependably facilitating all of my activities, communications and learning via the World Wide Web since I converted from Internet Explorer near the beginning of the millennium, around 2004 (not that I needed a good reason to leave that tired piece of reject code behind). All the way from 1.0 to version 3+ I’ve been a loyal supporter, fan and avid user of Mozilla’s beautifully designed desktop icon, Firefox. I upgrade every chance I get. I install plug-ins. I even bought a Firefox t-shirt and some stickers.

I still love Firefox, but now I’m feeling a little… confused.

It’s not like I didn’t tell her. Firefox knew all about our little “thing” since it started. Since February of 2005 I’ve been a raving fan of Gmail, Google’s (still beta, three years later) e-mail service, and Firefox was there when I signed up. When Google really started branching out into other services, especially with the iGoogle homepage, Google Docs and Google Reader, I was interested. After all, Google was a strong supporter of Firefox, so using their services wasn’t a disservice to my beloved web browser at all, was it? In fact, I was supporting a supporter of Firefox.

A couple of days ago I heard that Google was on the verge of releasing their new browser, Chrome. I read a nice article about it from a source I enjoy reading (and usually trust) and decided to give it a try. I had already been using Google Desktop on my Linux laptop and Google’s Picasa photo software on my Windows computer, and I love Google Earth, Google Talk and Google’s release of SketchUp, so a Google web browser didn’t sound all that bad.

My first impressions are a mess of mixed feelings, but overall I am both impressed and pleased. I can come up with really only one major gripe (other than that Chrome doesn’t support any good plug-ins yet, like Adblock Plus) having to do with the way it handles RSS and other subscription feeds, but despite how much I do like the newcomer, my beloved Firefox is dormant even now while I use Google Docs to write this from within Chrome, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’m enjoying the experience, but with a touch of bitterness. Chrome is not Firefox. Mozilla took on a web browser giant and made some major headway and history, significantly impacting Microsoft’s monopoly on the web browser market. Now Google wants to offer Internet goers yet another option, and I’m all for competition, but now I am forced to question my personal definitions of loyalty and support in this grand game of Hungry Hungry Web Browsers.

Would making the complete switch to Chrome be betrayal? I’m not ready for that yet, as I have fallen in love with the features many of Firefox’s plug-ins offer as well as Firefox’s inherent feature-set. I don’t think Chrome is that far behind though, and it will probably catch up soon. What should I do? Obviously I’ve switched before, and it’s not like I’m married to Firefox, but I had never felt loyalty for a product before like I do for Firefox – or so I thought. Perhaps what I felt wasn’t loyalty at all, but satisfaction. If I can find satisfaction somewhere else, and we’re not talking about marriage here (of course) then perhaps I belong somewhere else.

That’s how I handled my switch from a mail service I liked (go.com, before Disney bought them – do you even remember them?) to a mail service I love. That’s how we should do business, that’s why there’s competition. There has to be choice.

But then, I’ve been with Firefox longer than I’ve been with my wife. We go way back (in Internet years, anyhow). Just now I was doing some research to get the dates right for when Firefox was first released, and when Google really got their start. I typed “http://www.wikipedia.org” into the address bar, then hit “TAB” and it displayed this:

Then I could type in my search without ever having to load the main Wikipedia page. Of course, Firefox and other browsers have offered this function in one way or another (separate search bars, toolbars, plug-ins, etc.) but never has the workflow been this natural and easy (from later tests I found that I didn’t even have to hit the tab). That’s just one of many features they’ve included in their browser (the Omnibox).

They also snatched up the fastest JavaScript engine on the market (up to ten times than the system Firefox is running, and WAY faster than the IE JavaScript), and they set up their infrastructure to prevent many of the problems that older browsers are facing today with common viruses, bugs and page crashes that can disable the browser or even the whole computer.  
For more details on the technical aspects of this new browser, check out some of these articles:

  • Wired Magazine – the one I read that got me interested – the history, reasons behind it and some of the new technology in a well-written, easy-to-read, fun presentation
  • Blogoscoped – very good basic rundown of the features
  • Washington Post – good review of some of the features
  • PC World – good article, seven reasons for it and against it
  • USA Today – a nice, brief review

In the end, Chrome has many awesome, powerful features that make it very attractive to me. I may end up switching when they make those last couple of changes to make it just a little more attractive to this (still) loyal Firefox user.

No matter what happens, though, I’m keeping my Firefox t-shirt.

Updates and Status Report

It’s been quite a ride the last few days.

And yet, I feel that there is very little to report.

However, to keep myself accountable for the project I am working on, I am obligating myself to share a status report with anyone who actually reads the stuff I write here.

First of all, I have learned something valuable about my little writing computer, and I am also kicking myself due to something new that I have learned about something else that I was researching a long time ago.

As for my Asus Eee PC, it is not friends with Google Gears. I absolutely love Google Gears, I think products like Gears and Adobe’s similar product, AIR (among others), will change the way computer programs are operated, sold and handled. However, my Asus Eee PC has crashed a total of two times now, and both times Google Gears was running and also suffered a fatal error necessitating its uninstalling and re-installation. The first time I was able to get help online and solve the problem, so I reinstalled Google Gears (because I love it). This time, knowing that Google Gears is probably part of the problem, I am not going to reinstall it until I can research the issue and see if there is any patch on the way to prevent such problems. If you know of anything that could help, please leave a comment. If you don’t know of anything that will help, also leave a comment!

Anyhow, as you may be aware from my previous post, the crash prevented me from getting any real writing done when I got up early to write this morning. I got a lot of reading done in this book called Time to Write by Kelly L. Stone since my computer decided to be uncooperative. In the book I am reading about things that some authors do to make the most of their time writing (tricks for getting ideas, overcoming writers’ block, etc.). The book mentioned that one author said she sometimes switches things up a bit by writing on her PC one day, laptop another day and on her AlphaSmart sometimes.

“AlphaSmart?!?” I asked myself. “What is that?” Months ago, when I decided I wanted to start writing more, I began researching to see if there were any devices in production that would give me a portable word processing unit, not a typewriter, capable of saving the text on the go then transferring it to a computer for further editing and publishing. I looked for months and found that the best way to go would be to save up for one of the new UMPCs (ultra mobile personal computers) like my Asus. Through a graceful donation, I didn’t have to wait long, and I’ve been doing a lot of writing ever since the box arrived with my Eee PC in it.

After months of researching, I can’t believe I had never heard of the AlphaSmart. You want to know what it is? It’s exactly what I was looking for. So yes, now I am kicking myself violently (on the inside).

Fine, maybe I’m not actually that upset, I am very happy with the Asus, but this thing is perfect for on the go writing. It has a much better battery life than the Asus Eee PC (AlphaSmart = 700hrs vs Eee = 3hrs), it’s almost as portable but has a full sized keyboard, and it’s half the price ($219). Here are the technical specifications for anyone interested. Interestingly, I have read that some of their models (perhaps all of them) can double as an external keyboard when plugged into a computer via USB cable. This was one of the features I suggested to Amazon if they were to create a product similar to the Kindle but for authors. Amazon seemed interested in my idea, but I haven’t heard back from them for a few months. At the time I didn’t know that a product like the AlphaSmart existed, but my ideas still take the concept above and beyond the AlphaSmart, so I don’t feel that my proposal is obsolete.

In other brief news, I did in fact start another, very small, project on the side. It’s just going to be a blog-like collection of quotes; either my own ideas or things I hear from people around me that get me thinking, make me laugh or just make sense. I’ve got the service set up so I can punch the quote into my phone and post it directly via text message. This is extremely convenient, and that is the only reason I was willing to begin maintaining a second blog thing. If you didn’t check it out last time I wrote about it, or even if you did, go check out the first few postings now and watch for more quickies and one-liners on a random basis in the future.

In family news, my five-year-old lost his first tooth on Sunday, I’m still getting up at five forty-five every morning, and my wife and I are tired. Oh, and my hour long Tuesday evening writing time is officially over, so it’s time to stop writing. ‘Till next time.

A Kindle for Authors

Where is the Kindle’s sister product?

Despite valid criticism of the Kindle’s obtrusive page flipping buttons and other seemingly thrown-together hardware features, the Kindle is a great product for avid readers, and I am looking forward to purchasing the next generation Kindle (if there are sufficient improvements and a good drop in price).

What I want to know is, where is the Kindle for authors, not just readers?

I have been an aspiring author for quite some time now, and one of the challenges I struggle with is the hardware I use for writing my material. I tried an old typewriter, but most of the writing I was doing needed to be prepared to go digital, so paper was out. Then I tried using my laptop, but that is far too expensive and heavy a tool to be practical on the run, with strict requirements for ventilation and a heavy drain on the battery while the screen is lit up.

I looked far and wide on the internet, and found that NOBODY is producing an inexpensive, digitally oriented word processor for authors who need a portable, digital writing tool. There is a new generation of UMPCs and Linux laptops that range in price from $200 to $400, and I am thinking of going with one of them, but their battery life is still only three hours or so, they still require a back light for the LCD screen, and they are so compact that the keyboard is useless for long periods of typing.

Part of my specialty is my familiarity with current technologies. I learned of digital e-ink long before the first products began popping up with the technology. I am familiar with its numerous benefits (especially for products like the Kindle) as well as some of its drawbacks (like a frustratingly slow refresh rate). It’s main strength, though, is the fact that it only requires a charge to change the display, not to display content. I have also been an avid follower of OLED technology, which will one day replace all portable device screens because it offers all of the advantages of our current LCD screen technology, without the need for a back light, so it draws considerably less power, and displays crisper, more vibrant images.

I bring this up because I think bloggers and authors of all kinds in our digital world would benefit from a power-sipping device like the Kindle for use in a variety of environments and situations without fear of having to quit writing in three hours because the batteries will die, or fear of overheating the processor because it’s sitting in their lap.

The main features an author would look for in such a product would be:

* battery life (the screen technology would play the largest role in such a product)

* portability (full sized keyboard, but smaller than an average laptop, and well built)

* simplicity of use (no 30 second boot up time, not too many complicated features)

* cost (less than a full laptop – the cost of the Kindle, $400, would be permissible)

Obviously, the product would need to have a well developed word processor on board (check with the folks at http://www.openoffice.org for a free, Microsoft Office compatible office suite with a very good word processor and other tools, or a partnership with GoogleDocs could be considered), with a built in and extensive dictionary and thesaurus. Some additional features could include:

* access to and compatibility with Amazon’s CreateSpace and Digital Text Platform for formatting and publishing completed works directly

* access to Wikipedia.org and other research sites

* access to popular blogging sites to post to the users’ blogs directly

* ability to receive images/text from an e-mail account and/or SD card for inclusion in the document

* ability to send to an e-mail account or save to SD cards for transfer to another computer for further editing/formatting

* Whispernet AND WiFi compatibility, for ensured connectivity and enhanced features in WiFi hotspots (like connecting directly to another WiFi device to transfer documents)

* ability to run on battery for extended use or run while charging, plugged in

* USB connection to computer for file transfers, charging, and perhaps even to become a peripheral component (it could become an external keyboard with an external display to search dictionaries and other resources thus freeing up screen real estate on the computer)

I understand that these are lofty expectations, but even at its most basic form, the digital, portable, simple word processor is an untapped market. There is no product currently meeting the unique needs of those of us who simply want to type on the go, anywhere anytime.

Amazon embodies everything there is about books and media. The CreateSpace service is a wonderful tool for authors, just as digital books are a wonderful feature of the digital, internet world for readers. Amazon stepped up and brought readers a simple, direct, unique and innovative product for taking their hobby on the road in an “anywhere anytime” kind of way. If Amazon were to deliver a similar tool for authors, both the reader and the author could rejoice. There would be a surge in content for the readers, and increased sales for Amazon.

If such a product were to become available, you can bet that I would buy it. I might even buy two. And I’d probably give them as Christmas gifts to my writing friends and family.

Just an idea.


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