Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why a 9.7" screen is better than a 7"

The iPad has a screen size of 9.7", while a slew of iPad competitors are emerging with a screen size of 7". Here is one good reason why you may want to consider the larger screen size: you are likely to run into many free ebooks that are only available in pdf format. As you know, pdf is usually in the size of an A4 paper (after all, that is how pdf originated - as an electronic version of the printout from your printer). Naturally, if you try to read pdf on a smaller screen, you will either have to deal with a miniaturized page, or move the enlarged page around to see everything.

However, the 7" or 6" screen size is quite suitable for an e-reader (e.g. the Kindle). That is assuming you are interested to read novels and other regular paperbacks. The smaller screen is lighter and easier to hold and simulates a regular paperback quite well. You might think an A4-size screen would be better if you want to use the e-reader to read a newspaper. That is not quite the case, because an e-newspaper is specially formatted for reading on a small screen, and it is neither like an HTML web page, or a physical newspaper layout.

So there you go; horses for courses.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Communication cornucopia

I am ripe and ready for an iPad or a tablet PC. I am also ready to replace my aging mobile for one of the newer ones. I have already taken the plunge for an e-reader by getting the Kindle but that's about as far as I am willing to spend for now. The speed and ferocity of new gadget announcements is driving me dizzy; a new iPad competitor is introduced almost every other day, while a new Android mobile is superceded by another before it hits the local market.

All these gadgets - the tablet/iPad, the mobile phone, and the e-reader - overlap one another in function and purpose. They come in different sizes, enticing you to buy one of each. You buy the largest screen for home use, the smallest one for the greatest mobility, and one in between when you couldn't decide which one to take with you. Actually, there's really no necessity for any of these gadgets, as the good old PC can do the job. So why am I craving for a new gadget? Have I been brainwashed by the advertisements?

I have enough of this. I am just going to sit back and watch the gadget makers fight it out. Perhaps all I really need is a mobile phone that just makes calls and sends text messages, rather than high pressuring myself with one that has lots of apps, bells and whistles. We live in a world that is over-connected. It is time to break free and be just ourselves once more. It is good to be able to get "lost" once in a while, where no one knows where you are (no GPS), cannot reach you (phone battery dead), and cannot email you (no internet service).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why I am ditching the newspaper

Like many people, I enjoy reading the newspaper in the morning over a cup of coffee. It has become a ritual that I have grown accustomed to over the decades. I look forward to picking up the newspaper in the morning (hey, even my neighbour's dog enjoys doing that!), and spreading it open to see what is happening all around the country and the world. So why am I ditching the newspaper?

Of course, you would have guessed that I am merely turning to the e-newspaper. I think it is time for me to move on and see what it is like to be one of the early adopters of the new medium. There are several Australian newspapers that I can download automatically and transmit to my Kindle everyday, including The Age, The Australia, etc. They are free, at least for the moment, and so are hundreds of other newspapers all over the world. I can even find The New Straits Times of Malaysia, but for some reason it fails to transmit properly. Oh well!

For a change, now I won't be seeing newspapers all over the house. I won't be having that tinge of guilt every Saturday when I only read my regular sections and leave 90% of the weekend volume untouched. I have the liberty of carrying my e-newspaper, as well as all magazines and books in my e-reader and take it with me wherever I want without inconveniencing myself or others around me. Think of holding up a newspaper in a crowded restaurant, in a park on a windy day, in your bedroom when your spouse is trying to sleep... I think you'll get the idea.

Lost in Electronica

The title of this blog is from an article written by clinical psychologist Adam J.Cox, and a write-up about it appeared in the Newsweek magazine. See:

I believe Cox has correctly identified a problem that has emerged in today's ever-increasing influence of electronic mobile devices on our lives. It has affected boys more than girls, resulting in a loss of social communication skills. This leads to ill-adjusted youngsters, who later become ill-adjusted adults that are unable to communicate with the outside world. I have summarized the key points below.

The cause: "The ubiquitous barrage of battery-powered stimuli delivered by phones, computers, and games makes “the chaos of constant connection” an addictive electronic narcotic." (in bold are words emphasized by me)

The symptom: "Fifty years ago, the onset of boredom might have followed a two-hour stretch of nothing to do. In contrast, boys today can feel bored after thirty seconds with nothing specific to do. ........Perhaps flight from boredom prompts people today to take refuge in constant stimulation by visual and audio entertainments."

The result: "Not only does withdrawal into electronica enable them to bypass the confusion and pain of trying to give their emotions some coherence, it also helps them avoid the realities of being a flawed, vulnerable, ordinary human being...... So “the silent, sullen boy at the mall’s game store may be next in line for an underemployed, lonely adulthood if we don’t teach him how to maintain effective social contacts with others.” "

If you look around you, chances are you will find some people who fit into the above description.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is the future PC a smartphone?

The title of this blog is from this article:

Nvidia CEO Huang muses "Will a future PC be a powerful, multi-CPU handheld device that wirelessly connects to large displays and a host of other devices--so the PC is carried around in your pocket or small satchel and then connects on the fly to larger devices and/or peripherals?"

I am thinking that perhaps the other way around is also true: the future phone is a smart (portable) PC. I think gadgets like the iPod Touch and the Galaxy Pad will have VOIP apps in no time. As mobile broadband becomes more prevalent, it makes sense to carry voice over the data band, instead of the present voice band. Data band is a lot cheaper than voice band. I think mobile phone companies will do their best to thwart this, as this will see their revenue disappear into thin air. Eventually, I hope, mobile VOIP will prevail.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Kindle and not Nook

I am always on the lookout for the latest and greatest e-reader. When I found out about the latest Nook Wifi (cost US$149), I was very impressed by it. It is very similar to the Amazon Kindle Wifi (cost US$139) in terms of features and price.

Read about....
Nook Wifi:
Kindle Wifi:

I can tell you all the pros and cons of each, but I'll list the most significant ones here. One deal clincher feature me is the fact that the Kindle allows you to rotate the screen in any four directions, while the Nook doesn't. This is extremely critical because when you are reading a pdf book, the landscape orientation makes the font larger and much more readable. You can find a lot of good free books in pdf, but not in other formats.

The Nook's greatest advantage over the Kindle, on the other hand, is the ability to read any epub book (with or without DRM - digital rights management). Kindle doesn't. This is not a problem for me because I can use Calibre (3rd party software) to do format conversion, but it may be a serious problem for non-techies. Epub is the predominant format among ebooks, hence opening up your choices if you are shopping for ebooks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Debate on the burqa

There was an interesting debate on TV last night about the wearing of the burqa. The opponents basically cite security concerns and protection of women from oppression. Some proponents say wearing burqa is an act of worship, while other proponents say it is about freedom to choose what you want to wear. Naturally in a debate like this you will find strong arguments coming from both sides, as well as leaky arguments.

For example, when they say it is an act of worship, history says the burqa has been worn a few centuries prior to the coming of Islam. Yet on the other hand, that does not mean it cannot qualify as a God-sanctioned act of worship. As for freedom to choose, this is not a good argument either, because there are laws, like it or not, that bar people from dressing inappropriately and the burqa cannot be made an exception if society is strongly against it. Next point; clearly there are burqa wearers who do it willingly, yet the pro-choice people are unwilling or unable to to admit that many are forced to wear it, to the extent of physical abuse.

My turn to say now. I think the country should hold a nationwide survey. This is not an issue about a federal offence or a criminal act where there is need to research into precedence set at some other place or some other time. It is simply about how we can all live together peacefully. Based on the survey result, legislation can be enacted if it is necessary to ban the burqa.

If you are a guest in somebody's house, you do not go around doing things that upset the host. So it is with issues of culture and religion when one chooses (yes, there is a choice!) to live in another country. The freedom to choose does not equate to freedom to upset and offend those who want to be your friends. There are many laws against anti-social behavior and the argument that people have the freedom to carry out anti-social behaviour as they like is simply a wrong interpretation of democracy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Brother Like That

I have a bad reading habit. I fast and I read between the lines to try and soak up as much information possible in a short time. It is the result of many years of conditioning in a fast-paced world. Once a while or perhaps even more often, we all need to slow down and savour the words we read. When I was a kid and had the occasional treat of reading a new Enid Blyton book, every single word came to life as I slowly immersed myself into a make believe world where fairies and elves came alive. It was magical.

Here is a story that I pulled out from a book called "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Double click on it to enlarge it. Then read it slowly. I bet you will enjoy every word of it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The school bell

My primary school used to have an old fashioned bell that hung from a window at the school office. At the sound of the bell, everyone hurried to his class. I loved that sound because it had a clear warm tone, unlike the electronic buzzer that many schools use today. Bells always sound so much more cheerful. The school bell was a friendly clarion call to get down to serious work. It brightened the day ahead for me. I also looked forward to the next ringing of the bell, which was at recess time. Of course, the final bell of the day was the most welcomed one.

As little kids, we considered it a treat when the teacher asked one of us to go and ring the bell. I used to do it with great pride, as you can well imagine. Years have passed since those days. I am sure I owe my disciplined approach to time keeping in general to the simple school bell. It regimented all six years of my primary school life and it still echoes happily through my mind whenever I think of it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My opinion on iPad and Kindle

While many are oo-hing and aa-hing over the iPad, I have been totally besotted by my Kindle. When the iPad was launched, many people felt sorry for Amazon because they thought that the iPad spelt the death knell for the Kindle, which was launch just a few months prior.

Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) made a brilliant move; he did not give in or give up. He improved on an already great product (the Kindle 2), and dropped the price for the Kindle 3 (which yours truly immediately queued up to buy). Many companies were already making e-readers then, but few can achieve what Amazon did with the Kindle.

Back to the iPad. Many people are inclined to compare the Kindle with the iPad. Kindle is not iPad and iPad is not Kindle. The difference is not form or fit, but function. In my opinion iPad and Kindle can coexist. Use the Kindle if you want to enjoy the pleasure of reading. Use the iPad if you want to browse for information quickly; just make sure you keep your charger handy all the time.

Why I love the Kindle - Part 2

It has been many years since I have gone paperless. Every note that I keep, from income tax records to instructions, letters, memory joggers, schedules, etc, are stored digitally. Therefore it is only natural that I embrace ebooks so readily. I can add volumes to my collection without adding one single piece of paper to my cabinet.

Amazon has a super built-in support for the Kindle. Any book you buy or download for free exists as an archive record in Amazon's database. You can choose to delete this permanently if you wish. As long as it is there, you can re-download your book at any time without making the same purchase again.

As for the reading experience, I think I can get used to reading from an electronic tablet. Some people might miss the feel of a book; I don't. I quite like the fact that the page I am reading is always there. The pages don't get accidentally turned or blown by the wind. I can change the font size if it is too small. The Kindle allows me to play music on its built-in speaker while I read. I can even get the Kindle to read to me, if I wanted to. I love the built-in dictionary and I have used it many times.

If everyone embraces ebooks, what will happen to the future of paper books? I think reference books will continue to be printed and sold. At the same time, fiction and news articles will probably exist better in bytes than in books.

Why I love the Kindle

The Kindle is not perfect yet. It could do with some built-in word games such as Hangman, Word Train, Jumble, etc. It could do with an even faster processor. This is the test of true love: I still love it despite its present shortcomings. Here's why.

Before getting my Kindle, I didn't think that the wifi feature was a big deal. I thought it was just as easy to use the USB cable to connect to my computer whenever I wanted to download anything. That was until I found that I could download lots of newspapers and magazines automatically using Calibre (another software), and setting up Calibre to automatically send the content to my Kindle. This is all done through wifi. Of course, with the Kindle you can also pay Amazon to deliver the content to your device, but I quite enjoy doing it myself for free. I have already downloaded Reader's Digest, PCWorld, US & World News Report, The Australian, and Daily Telegraph. There are lots more to choose from: USA Today, BBC, CNN, Business Week, Discover Magazine, Engadget, etc, just to name a few among the hundreds available.

I can always visit the Amazon bookstore through my wifi, choose any book to download, and go back to my reading. A few minutes later, the book is in my Kindle. If it is not a free book, I get to download the first chapter at no charge, with the option to purchase later if I like it. Just for fun, I downloaded the Koran.

As I read a book or an article, I can highlight it, add my own notes, and press two buttons to send it off to my Facebook (or to Twitter). This is particularly useful when you are reading a news article and you want to add your own thoughts to it and publish it in Facebook for all your associates to read. This is almost instant with wifi turned on.

Also thanks to the wifi, I can make use of Amazon's Whispersync to synchronize my reading on any Kindle device, be it on my computer, on my laptop or on the Kindle e-reader. This can be very handy, but I haven't really taken advantage of it yet.

I think Amazon did the right thing to put wifi and 3G into the Kindle. I think Sony made a mistake of not putting wifi into their entry-level e-readers. As for other e-readers in the market, some do have wifi, but they may not have the "ecosystem" (such as mentioned above) for the wifi to be used effectively.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cloud computing will reduce need for backups

As I tried to help a friend following a virus attack on his laptop, I realized that it is not easy for a non-technical person, especially of my generation, to be self-dependent on the use of a computer. Many people simply do not know what to do, from repairing the damage to recovering the data. This is where the importance of a good data backup strategy becomes painfully obvious.

This is what I do to safeguard my data. I do not claim this is the best, but it suffices for my needs. I have an image backup of my C: drive, which means I can easily re-create my whole computing environment (including all customizations) if my hard drive crashes; which it will eventually. I regularly back up all 340GB of my data onto another drive, which I store externally. This is set to run automatically on a nightly basis using a freeware called Syncback. I also have copies of the most important records burned into DVD's, which I keep in successive iterations.

Here is where we ought to think about cloud computing. Google Docs is a very good example. In the days of client-server, dumb terminals run off the server. If one terminal breaks down, you simply go to another terminal. Cloud computing is just like that. Google, in this example, provides the software for you to run a word processor, a spreadsheet, or a presentation. All your files are stored in the "cloud", which is the server or servers Google maintains. Your computer is just the "dumb" terminal. The great thing about this is, there is no need for all the back ups I mentioned above. There is no need to manage your computer, such as regular registry cleanups, disk defrag, spyware removal, and constant software upgrades. Incidentally, the iPads and the Android tablets show promise of what it takes to move into cloud computing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Banned for life over one email

A 17-year old British teenager has been banned from entering the US for life after he sent an email to White House, calling President Obama a "pr*ck". Hurray to the FBI for acting tough; but isn't that using a sledgehammer to kill an ant? How is it that terrorists and their sympathizers can chant death threats against the US openly and get away with it, while a derogatory remark, which is not even a threat, is immediately silenced and crushed? If the FBI were to ban every person who openly shouts threats to the country, I think it will save them much time and money having to deal with it later on.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rediscovering reading

I find myself learning to enjoy reading again, thanks to my Kindle ereader. On the advice of a dear friend, I paid serious attention to why it is better to get a dedicated ereader than an all-purpose iPad. After writing the last blog (re: How the internet makes us stupid), I realized that my friend was right about the ereader being better for reading. Here's why.

I think perhaps the reason why the ereader works better is that it is free of distractions. All the colourful pictures, hyperlinks, advertisements in pop-up windows, instant messaging, etc, are huge distractions to serious reading. To be honest, I do miss the ability to quickly and easily jump from website to website. However, I find that I actually enjoy reading better, and I can focus on reading continuously without getting bored. It seems that my ereader has rekindled the reader in me!

On the practical side, I find that my eyes don't tire so easily when I read on the ereader, as compared to reading on my laptop. With the ereader, I could read for hours, while on my laptop I could feel eye strain in minutes (although longer on my desktop, which has a better screen). As a portable reading device, the ereader beats the iPad hands-down.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How the internet makes us stupid

The title of this blog comes from a recent article in The Age. It is written by Nicholas Carr, who authored a book called "The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read, and Remember." Basically, the author has researched into studies that support his proposition that most internet users skim over the pages quickly (compounded by constant distraction of emails and updates) rather than read deeply. This is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers. We lose our capacity for concentration and contemplation. Our mind seems hungry for constant stimulation and for quick hits of information. We feel perpetually distracted even when away from the computer. Does that sound familiar?

That is exactly how I feel, and I am grateful to the author for pointing this out. It is important to differentiate between skimming for information for further reading, and skimming as an end in itself. We skim the newspaper and go on to read in full only what we want to read. We skim the magazines and we skim books before deciding what to read rather than reading everything between the covers. It becomes a problem when all we do is only to skim and not to read further into anything. Then we become shallow readers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The dumbing of society

Nowadays people have become more careful with what they say, lest they be accused of being discriminatory, or worse, racist. Discrimination and racism have become dirty words and people are afraid of being labeled as such. Hence we are shaped to be tolerant even of things we should be speaking out against. This leads to a lopsidedness where normal people are afraid to speak out while deviants get to have their full say all the time. It follows that if people with antisocial, immoral, or criminal ideology were to have their say unrestrained and protected by anti-discriminatory laws, doesn't that inevitably lead to more and more decay over time? That is the world we live in, in all the developed countries today.

In the past, before "discrimination" became overused and decent people became abused by its use, we were able to correct one another as we went along. Children were properly disciplined at home and in school. Aberrant behaviour was kept in check. Sure it drove some people into the closet, but it also helped to prevent society from legitimizing what was wrong or detrimental. If I were to name what acts I am talking about, I will certainly draw lots of flak in this blog. By not naming them, I am dumbing myself down just like everyone else; scared to speak out in case of being called a discriminator or a racist.... like how scared the US is of the repercussion of Koran burning, yet completely tolerant of Bible burnings everywhere.... like people who will readily forward racially sensitive writings they support but dare not write themselves.... the list goes on.

Disability Discrimination Act

Is this how we apply the Disability Discrimination Act? In yesterday's The Age newspaper, an 17-year old autistic boy is suing the Education Department for discrimination because his teacher refused to modify questions in his maths test. He wants the open ended questions to be removed, citing the Disability Discrimination Act. I couldn't help but think that this boy is asking for too much. Am I discriminating against him for thinking this way?

The purpose of a test is to measure a person's level of competency. You can only measure accurately if everyone sits for the same paper. If the paper were modified to suit some people's unique situation, we have to examine if the test will still be a useful gauge. It is one thing to ask for a bigger font in an exam paper if one has poor eyesight, but it is another if he is being tested for a newsreader position, for example. If a precedent is set for the above student, is he going to ask for the same treatment when he goes to a university? Or when he starts working?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to publish for free

I came across this article in The Good EReader website. See: .

When I first came to Australia, I met some people who, in the course of casual conversation, expressed a desire to write a book when they retire. (That tells you I take people's words seriously!). That was what rekindled my desire to start a blog, which I did and held on to. It has become a pastime that I find very enjoyable. While I write, I also wish to read the writings of my personal friends; perhaps a holdover of the past letter-writing days when pen pal-ing was a hobby.

For the aspiring writers who want to eventually publish an entire book, here is your opportunity to gain an instant world-wide audience. There is no need to make countless visits, hat (and book) in hand, to any publisher to see if they will publish your book. You can do it yourself and place it in the electronic bookstore. You might even make some money if it becomes popular. So to the friends I met earlier who expressed a desire to write and publish a book, there is no better time than now to fulfill your dream.

My Kindle has arrived

My Kindle has arrived! I bought the wifi-only version, costing AUD$179 after postage and currency conversion. It works straight out of the box; no set up required. Took me just a few minutes to open up a book and see what it can do. I am still trying to understand all the limitations regarding file handling, as this does not run on a standard operating system.

First impressions.... I love it. It feels good in the hand, but I think it'll be better to have a book cover. Then I wouldn't worry about touching any of the buttons accidentally. I popped in an MP3 in the audio folder and I could play it on the built-in speakers. There are not many controls for the music player, but then this is not meant to be a music player. Then I turned on the "text-to-speech" function and it started reading aloud to me. It even works on a magazine and a newspaper that I had on trial subscription. It didn't work on my PDF file, but I wonder if it works on a Word file.

In summary, I am pretty pleased with this gadget and I look forward to exploring more to see what it can and cannot do.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Understanding touchscreens

Touchscreen technology is generally little understood by the public at large (including many product reviewers!). Many people, including me, still haven't got the arms around all of it yet. Therefore I wish to point you to a very useful article to educate yourself: "Know your touchscreens" at

Be aware that as you shop for your next touch-enabled videocam, camera, mobile phone, tablet PC, TV, etc, that not all touchscreens are alike in capability. If you had ever owned a PDA back then, you will know how difficult it was to use a stylus to write on your PDA screen. The iPhone touchscreen has come a long way since then. I have handled an imitation made-in-China iPhone that has a most exasperating touchscreen, which awoke me to the fact that indeed there are bad touchscreens. Since then, I have learned that capacitive touchscreen is superior to resistive touchscreen, and that multitouch is something worth watching out for.

Bottomline: if you want to maximize the enjoyment of the next touch-enabled gadget you buy, see if it has the magic touch before you part with your money.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Independents for Victoria?

No, I am not about to proclaim "independence" for Victoria, but if the federal election is something to learn from, I think we all should vote for independent candidates in the coming November election. If 4 independents can wield so much power and make the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader eat from their hands, think how great Victoria can become if we all vote for independents.

I am tired of the excesses of the Brumby government. Project after project fail to meet their initial budgeted costs, even though the projects have been privatized. Blowouts are in the unheard of tens and hundreds of percent, making a mockery of the tender and award process. At the same time Brumby spends a record amount of taxpayers' money to convince us he is doing a great job; $124mil to be precise.

I am also disappointed with the inability of Ted Ballieu, as Opposition Leader, to take Brumby to task. I think many people will easily give their vote to Baillieu if he could bring Brumby's fiscal mismanagement out into the open. It is not an easy task, as many laws appear to protect the criminals and those in high office, more than to protect public interest. They call it privacy act, the right-to-know, or perpetrators simply lie their heads off in court. What ever happened to perjury?

Back to what I was saying... let's all vote for independents in the November state election. It is interesting to see what a few people can do when we have don't have obviously strong candidates to lead the major parties into an election. If you support this view, please forward this blog to your friends. Together we can make a difference.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

eReaders and Tablet PC's

This is an exciting time for the consumer electronics industry. The now-in-progress IFA, Europe's largest consumer electronics show, will see the unveiling of all the latest products industry has to offer. We are on the verge of finding out what will be hot favorites for the Christmas season, and my bet is that it will be an iPad-like product or a dedicated ebook reader. Even as I write, news are flowing in of what everyone has to offer. It makes me want to go out and start playing with these wonderful toys.

Among the early ones to make the news are the improved Sony eReaders: the Pocket Edition and the Touch Edition. Despite the names, both are now touch-enabled and have improved contrast in the display. They have SD card slot, built-in dictionaries, MP3 player, and are priced at AUD$229 and AUD$300 respectively. Very tempting indeed! I'll blog about it if I see another equally tempting offer....

As for tablets, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is a worthy challenger to the iPad. Galaxy is Android-based. What I find very interesting is that you can place it on the desk and use it for video conferencing or use it as a regular speaker phone. Or, turn it into a mobile phone via a Bluetooth headset. The Galaxy can download apps from the Android Marketplace, and it can do everything that the iPad can do, and more, with supposedly equal elegance.