Monday, July 19, 2010

No blogs for the next 3 weeks

I will be away for the next three weeks. If you are following my blog, please revisit after Aug 10th.

Meanwhile, if you are an image editing enthusiast, I have just found a very good site on Lightroom. You can get lots of tips here: . Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Asus repair center in Melbourne

If you are using your laptop for work, how long can you afford to be without one? I sent my son's laptop for repair at the (one and only) Asus service center in Melbourne. When I handed it in I was told I would be contacted within a few days after they have made an initial assessment on what was wrong. Exactly one week of silence later, I called to find out. This time I was told it would be "up to 10 working days" for them to call.

Having used a laptop in my work for many years, I know it is very hard to be without the computer for even a few days, let alone to wait for 2 weeks (i.e. 10 working days) just to get an initial assessment report. I wonder if Asus' management knows about this.

There is really nothing a consumer can do about the service level except to take his business elsewhere. I have long admired Asus for their EeePC innovation and have always looked at it as the benchmark for netbook. However, with this experience, I think I won't be so quick to recommend it anymore. At least, not in Melbourne.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The weight factor behind an eReader

Do you know why the laptop will never be good as an electronic book reader? Apart from the form factor (which makes it unsuitable for holding up as you read) is the weight factor. Book lovers typically hold the book in their hand as they read; hence a good eReader has to be hand held. The heavier the eReader gets, the more uncomfortable it is to hold for long. Below is a rough comparison of various devices that could be used to read electronic books. Note that in comparison, a Dan Brown paperback weighs about 0.3kg.

Laptop ~ 4kg
Netbook ~ 1kg
iPad ~ 0.7kg
Kindle ~ 0.3kg
iTouch ~ 0.12kg

The book reader app in the iPad is really impressive. The library looks like a real bookshelf. Your books are displayed there like physical books. When you touch click on a book, you see the image of a book opening up. When you flip the pages, it looks like you are turning the physical pages. Touch click on any word and the pop-up window lets you choose if you want to look up the word in a dictionary, write notes, or add a bookmark. I would love to see electronic ink eReaders like the Kindle do that, but unfortunately the price to pay for the super low power consumption and the lovely eInk look is the lack of sophistication in presentation.

In balancing between the weight factor and the "cool" factor, young book readers will lean towards the iPad. Older, more serious book lovers, will probably find the likes of the Kindle more tenable.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lebara - cheapest mobile in Australia?

Not many people have heard about Lebara, a mobile service provider that leases its bandwidth from Vodafone and sells it to the public. I have only heard about it today from a friend and I immediately wanted to try it out as it sounds too good to pass. I bought a Lebara SIM card from a bloke who peddles it outside a grocery shop in Glen Waverley. It costs only $10 and is loaded with $10 of call credits. Activation is just a simple step on the internet, which I did myself when I got home. Within minutes of activation I was able to use the phone. It costs only 3c a minute to call to Malaysia (albeit 15c a min to call within Australia). As this is about the same rate I pay on my VOIP phone, what could be better? There's no contract and no monthly fee. This is fully prepaid. The only snag is that it also charges a flagfall of 25c, which my VOIP doesn't. If it works well, this might be the cheapest mobile in Australia.

My initial experience with Lebara has not been too good though. I tried twice to call to Malaysia. As the other end did not pick up the phone, a recorded message came on and I was charged for the flagfall plus one minute each time. The two calls cost me 96c. Later, I made another call to Malaysia at night and the quality was so bad that I had to hang up. I don't know if it was due to Lebara or due to poor reception at the other end.

Conclusion: assuming that the call quality was just a one-off thing, the Lebara might work well for people who are after the cheapest mobile rate. Unfortunately the flagfall and the charge-by-minute makes it less attractive than using my VOIP to make calls back to Malaysia.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More on eReader

What do you do when you read a book? The eReader, for it to emulate a book reading experience, should provide the user with the same or better experience. For example, as you read a book, you can tell at a glance how far you have read. Electronically, this "experience" can be simulated by displaying a progress bar, as I have mentioned in the previous blog. Here are a few more:

1. Several users to one reader.
When I was young my sister and I used to take turns to read a book. The reader should allow different people to open it (e.g. User 1, User 2, etc) and customize itself to that reader (recalling the book he is reading, where he has stopped, and what pages he bookmarked, etc )

2. Several books at one time.
If I had identified a few books to read out of the thousands in my archive, I would like to "place" those books in a CHECK OUT folder. It is like checking out the books in a library. Those checked out books could be seen as virtual shortcuts to the actual books in my archive.

3. Flipping pages.
Sometimes I like to flip quickly through a book before I decide I want to read it. The eReader should provide the user with a similar experience in an electronic way. How, I am not sure. (I can imagine iPad-like devices that are smart enough to display an image of the page being flipped. That's a cool factor)

4. Bookmarks and context-sensitive buttons.
When I bookmark a page, I want to flip back and forth between bookmarks and between the current page and a bookmarked page. This is where one could borrow some ideas from the Nokia phone's Top Right and Top Left context-sensitive buttons. Depending on what function you have opened on the screen, the button could mean "return to last read page" or "go to contents page". (The contents page could be the first bookmarked page)

5. Dictionary and thesaurus.
These are nice to have. If I could just highlight any word I read and see the meaning in a pop-up window, I would be simply delighted.

Do I want an eReader that browses the web? Or plays games? Or has a calendar function? Or does email on the go? Or has a built-in webcam, or skype, or Facebook? I think I already have enough gadgets to do all those things. I have 2 desktops, a smartphone, and (soon) a laptop. No thanks; I just want an eReader that increases my reading experience beyond what a printed book can do. If an eReader can turn reading into an immensely pleasurable experience, I believe many parents would be rushing out to buy one for their children.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What I want in an eReader

This year may turn out to be the year of eReaders, or electronic book readers. It is interesting to see the variety of new products that are being introduced now. Amazon's Kindle seems to have taken the lead in establishing the form factor that defines what an electronic book reader should be. When the iPad was launched, there was a period of uncertainty over the future of the Kindle and other similar products that also debuted at around the same time at the CES just prior to the iPad launch. Now that the uncertainty has cleared, electronic book readers are back on the commercial radar.

I like the Kindle form factor and I have no wish to see the role of a book reader being taken over by an all-purpose iPad or a tablet PC. The Quokka Pad is an example of a book reader that I think is "overdone". It has many features like calendar, voice recording, email, web access, wifi, bluetooth, etc. I think one would be better off getting an iPad in this case.

The ideal book reader should focus on making reading books the number one priority. I would look for these features:
- about the same size as a 6" Kindle, with electronic ink display
- built-in dictionary, and built-in MP3 player to listen to music while you read
- an clock display in a corner, with an alarm function.
- a progress bar showing which book you are reading and how far you have read
- reads books in audible format, as well as all other popular text formats
- easy to add books to the reader (drag and drop)
- as low cost as possible and much lower in price than an entry level iPad; hence no wifi, no touch screen, no qwerty keyboard. The problem with many book readers is that they are trying to do too many thing but read books.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Any takers for voicemail?

Voicemail is a technology that, to me, has slipped into a crack. People are more likely to type out an SMS on their mobile phone than to even think about sending pre-recorded message to the intended receiver. My children used to have an old Sony Ericsson mobile that has multimedia function. You have an option of making a regular call, send a multimedia message, or send a voicemail. To send a voicemail, you simply choose the voicemail option, record your message, and then press "send". There is no need to type out any text messages, which is a hassle sometimes for the less adept. If you don't like how your recording sounds, you can delete and start all over again. If you want to play up the emotion in your message, you can certainly add high drama into it.

The voicemail can also be used instead of a regular email. That would be faster than typing. I haven't seen such a function in any email software yet, but I think it would be nice to be able to click a "reply by voicemail" option, record your response, and finish off by clicking "send". This is appropriate for certain messages where voice can convey more information than just text. It is good for busy people and for those who are prone to typing or spelling errors.

Voicemail has a wonderful role in comunication. It is unfortunate that this seems to have disappeared into oblivion in the plethora of communication tools the consumer is provided with today.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My photo studio

I've finally set up a studio in my garage. It is nothing fancy. There's the backdrop stand and a white backdrop that I bought for AUD$200 at the PMA exhibition last month. The umbrella is from eBay. The light stand is from Vanbar. The flash guns were bought in Malaysia a long time ago.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Video lessons on the internet

Many of us would have probably forgotten that not so many years ago it was quite cumbersome to share video content over the internet. The internet speed was prohibitively slow and expensive, not to mention the quality of the video, and the difficulty of video production. These days, you can get a pretty decent videocam for less than $150 (e.g. the Flip videocam). Plus, the process of publishing on the internet has become much less cumbersome.

So the day of video lessons has finally arrived. To have a tutor at your disposal and to be able to replay the same lesson over and over again until you master it; isn't that a big boon for education? As I browsed through the books on Photoshop at Borders today, my mind kept going back to the video tutorials. Learning Photoshop, in particular, is best done through video tutorial as it can convey the "touch and feel" of it. You can find so many Photoshop lessons on the Youtube and they are all free. Or, you can buy photography magazines and many of them come with a DVD that usually has video tutorials. If you are keen to learn Photoshop, don't waste your money buying books or going for classes. Go to Youtube. You will probably find lots of lessons on other hobbies too: knitting, guitaring, painting, etc. To me, this is one of the most exciting part of the information age: to be able to access and use information, and to go further than one has ever gone before!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The trick to learning Photoshop

Many years ago I challenged myself to learn Photoshop. It looked easy enough but I never really got a grip on it for many years despite many attempts. I wish someone had told me then that the trick to learning Photoshop is to master two essential skills: layers and selections. At this point of my journey in Photoshop, I feel that I have passed a critical milestone. Everything about Photoshop seems to fall into place now that I have a good grip on layers and selection. I know it will take me a long time before I can do fancy artwork, but at least I don't feel lost.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Learning through mistakes

If you learn through mistakes, then it follows that you cease to learn when you stop making mistakes. If that is entirely through, wouldn't that be odd? We all know that we continue to learn even though we get better at avoiding mistakes.

Mistakes are effective in making us understand and remember where we went wrong. But it could be a costly way. That is why we learn through OTHER people's mistakes. That is why people are paid for their experience; so that you don't have to pay the full price.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Quash or squash?

Some time ago I wrote a blog about slick and sleek, two words that are often mixed up in use. Quash and squash are another case in point. Squash has several meanings: e.g. a sport where you hit a softball against a wall, or a type of vegetable. Used as a verb it means to compress with violence causing something to bend out of its natural shape. Perhaps this is where it is easy to mistake the word "squash" for "quash." Quash means to repress, or to put down by force or intimidation. It can also mean to dismiss, to annul, to void, or to suppress. These meanings are quite different from "squash", but you will no doubt come across phrases like "to squash (quash) a rumour", or "to squash (quash) an uprising." It is easy to be a malaprop if one does not constantly seek to sharpen his vocabulary.