Monday, June 24, 2013

Ebook enhancements I would like to see

Ebook has certainly gained much grounds over printed books. There is no doubt that ebooks will replace most of printed books in time to come. With modern technology, I see no reason why ebooks cannot be further enhanced, other than simply imitating conventional books in electronic form.

For starters, how about including music and sound effects at various points in the book? I remember that as a child when I was reading children's books, I loved the illustrations. They helped to bring the story alive. If the ebook author could include a clickable music icon or a sound effect icon here or there, one could bring the sound to live as he continues to read.

Even video clips would add to the reading thrill. Say you are reading a book after a movie has been made or released. A video clip at selective points in the book will further bring the story to live. Or, if you are reading a biography, a video recording of the subject will bring the person to life. You will be able to see the person and hear his voice.

I would also like to see at the end of the book, a list or recommended readings by the same author, or of the same genre. This is already available in the back cover of many books. However, it can be enhanced now that it is far easier to include a far richer content in an ebook without being intrusive.

The technology is all available now. It is just a matter of taking advantage of it to re-invent the book.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Kobo Mini vs Kindle

I have been using the Kindle Keyboard e-reader for some time. I simply love it. So I found it hard to justify buying the Kobo Mini, but the sale price of $48 (down from $109) was too good to resist. I caved in to this temptation. So what if it doesn't have the latest "glo" to illuminate the screen in the dark. (Oh, I might be tempted by that someday and buy my 3rd e-reader and become a collector)

Anyway, now that I have used the Kobo Mini for a few days, here is what I think of it. First, the physical size. One official review I read says the 5" touchscreen is neither big enough for reading at home, nor small enough for carrying around. Hence, it will not be very popular. I beg to differ. I love the size. I wouldn't want it any other way. Plus I love the aspect ratio.

Overall appearance. I think it looks really great. There is only one button, which is the power button. Everything else is touch screen. This gives it a charming simplicity. I chose white over the alternative black because it seems to go better with the simplicity theme. The silver backing on the white model is really nice.

The built-in 2GB of memory can store about 2000 books; much more than I can ever read. It has a built-in dictionary. I just need to tap on a word to see its meaning. The page turn is fast enough for me. The fonts are as crisp and clear as I can tell. Font, font size and line spacing are customizable. This e-reader is capable enough to satisfy almost anyone's reading needs, providing even annotation and bookmark capability. Page turn can be customize to touch on left edge or right edge to flip pages right or left.

Adding epub books to the Kobo is simply a matter of dragging from the PC to the Kobo when attached through USB cable. There is built-in wifi to sync my Kobo to other Kobo readers on the PC or a tablet. I don't really care about the wi-fi synching bit. I am not in the habit of reading any one book on several devices.

What I really like about the Kobo Mini over my Kindle is that the touch screen makes no clicking sound when I read in bed. Of course, the better featured Kindle has other bells and whistles, but for pure reading enjoyment, the Kobo pretty much has it all (save for LED illumination). I am sure the sale price I got indicates this model will soon be supplanted. Oh well! It is still a marvelous gadget.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The scourge of privatization of public enterprises

When I was a young lad and at a very impressionable age, I was schooled in the thinking that privatization leads to greater efficiency. I was taught that privatization brings greater benefits at lower costs, due to the inherent superiority of capitalism at work. When the government in Malaysia started to privatize one utility after another, I failed to see at that time what this was leading to. It gradually lead to massive outflow of wealth into the hands of a few private individuals. Yes, capitalism was certainly working very hard; but only for the benefit of the exclusive few. It was more like milking the economy for what it was worth.

I see the same thing happening in Australia, a first world country. I also see it happening in all the other developed countries, except perhaps in Singapore. The impact to the population is the same; costs keep rising as a result of privatization. In my work at the post office, people come in to pay their utility bills with wads of money. It is not unusual to see a few household bills add up to hundreds of dollars. At the same time, the same people might withdraw (usually) anything from $10 to $200 for their personal use. I cannot help but feel the bondage of modern slavery playing out before my eyes when I observe the huge difference between what goes into discretionary spending and what is fed into the ever growing profit margin of the privatized companies.

The problem with privatized companies making all the profits is that wealth being transferred over to private hands no longer returns to the public in terms of other public benefits, such as building infrastructure for a growing population. Ironically, the growing wealth in private hands only serves to bolster inflation, thus further aggravating the situation. So why is the government in such a hurry to privatize whatever is left to privatize? Your guess is as good as mine.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Yamaha RX-V473 AV Receiver

I have just bought a new AV receiver to replace my 15 year-old Kenwood receiver. My new Yamaha RX-V473 AV receiver is just a notch above entry level in its range (sale price AUD$420) but it suffices for my needs. My old receiver simply lacks the connectivity for modern equipment, namely: LAN, HDMI, optical port, and USB. The new receiver has all these plus the old component video and composite video connectors. I am pretty happy with it and here is why.

Without going into the technical details, suffice to say that my receiver is now connected to my home network router, which allows me to use my Samsung phone and iPad as remote controls. It is also supposed to allow me to access internet radio, but I have not been able to get it running yet.(19/Jun/13 update: my Net Radio is working now! It has something to do with the network connection)

Of course I can now properly connect my plasma TV to the receiver to make full use of my 5.1 surround sound speaker system for TV, thanks to the available optical cable feeding audio back to the receiver.

HDMI allows me to connect my Blu-Ray player to the receiver for better video output than the ancient composite video RCA connector.

USB port allows me to plug a USB stick into the receiver. My entire collection of MP3 music can reside in one 32-GB thumb drive. My Android app can remotely switch on the receiver and play any song from my collection .

Sound quality on the Yamaha RX-V473 is as good as the reviews say. Not exactly an audiophile myself, I must say the sound system is as good as I can ever tell. My system as it stands now consists of the amplifier receiver as the hub, 5.1 speaker system, TV, and Blu-Ray player. I am so blessed!

(Note: Smart TV is another way to get LAN connectivity. Multi-HDMI ports in the TV can also provide for various game consoles and disc players, like what the receiver does. However, it is doubtful that any TV manufacturer will incorporate a high end sound system into even a high-end TV, for cost reasons. Hence the need for an AV receiver if you are after a more satisfying home theater experience.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Notes to myself: how to optimize Lightroom

Adobe has very good write-ups on things to consider when trying to improve the performance of Lightroom and Photoshop on the computer.The considerations include everything from HDD to RAM, to video card, to software configuration and settings. Adobe's websites also explain the why's and the how's.

For Lightroom optimization, see:

Here is a list of settings which has helped to make my Lightroom a lot speedier. The notes are taken from the above link.

1. Render 1:1 Previews on import or manually
On import: When "Import" is clicked, make sure the Render Previews is set to 1:1.
Manually: In the Library, select grid view. After selecting the photos to render, click Library>Preview>Render 1:1 Previews.

2. Catalog and Preview cache
Both are in the same folder buy default. Keep it that way. To see location, click Edit>Catalog Settings>File Handling. The location is set at the very first time Lightroom ever imports a file. To change the location, delete all files in the existing location. Lightroom will then prompt for location when you next import a file. To set default location, start the first import process, then click Quit before setting any new catalog location.

3. Keep standard size previews as small as possible,
but not smaller than the screen's resolution. My computer screen's highest resolution is 1280x1024. In Edit>Catalog Settings>File Handling, set Standard Preview Size to 1440, and Preview Quality to Medium or Low. Keep Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews at After 30 Days or never, but remember to delete if hard disk space starts running out.

4.Turn off Autowrite XMP
In Edit>Catalog Settings>Metadata, uncheck Automatically write changes into XMP.

5. Once in a while, optimize the catalog
Click File>Optimize Catalog...

6. Increase Camera Raw cache size.
Click Edit>Preferences>File Handling. Set Maximum Size to 20GB.
The location of the cache is also shown here.

For Photoshop optimization, see:

p/s Do a registry cleanup on the computer after changing the Catalog and Preview caches. This is important and necessary. How? Just google for "free registry cleaner". 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Are senior politicians a dying breed?

At least in the Australian context, mature-age politicians seem to be a dying breed (figuratively speaking, of course!). Many of our MP's have young children. Thus they are still preoccupied with raising a family while attending to the affairs of state. Finance Minister Penny Wong has just become a mother (or father?). Prime Minister Julia Gillard seems to be getting younger and younger on TV (botox or plastic surgery not discounted). She is 52. Her nemesis Tony Abbot is slightly older at 61. However, both Julia and Tony are like overgrown babies, judging by the name calling and mud slinging matches they display with gusto in Parliament.

Here is my point, seriously. Surely we have a wisdom deficit situation. From Federal Parliament to State Parliament, and down to the local councils, the average age of politicians is getting lower and lower. One (and there may be more) local councilor in my area was fresh out of university. Surely we could use people with more experience and wisdom that comes with age.

The Victorian State government recently awarded itself a 15% pay rise, while the state is travailing in growing unemployment and budget deficit. This monkey-see-monkey-do business is simply apeing what the Federal government is doing. Just three months after awarding itself a hefty pay increase, the federal MP's were awarded another 3% increase*. The justification? It could not be for a job well done, or for balancing the budget, or for building a better future for all Australians (writer's opinion). Back to my point; when you expose kids to a cookie jar, they are going to help themselves big time.

I categorically deny that older politicians will automatically make better politicians. My point is that surely we could use more wisdom in our leaders, and wisdom normally takes time to develop in a person. I, for one, would love to see that our local council is staffed with mature-age, experienced, and wise people who are more keen to promote community welfare than their own career. Likewise the State and Federal parliaments. Would you rather travel in a plane flown by a matured, experienced pilot, or by someone who is still clocking up flight time?