Kindle Findings

A while back, I broke down and bought a Kindle.  It’s shiny.  It’s well-made.  I take it with me everywhere.  It does not, however, accelerate or even keep a pace with my reading speed of paper.  A while back I said that I would be testing this thing out with my first three books.  Here are my results:

  Pages in the Print Version Total Time to Read Pages/Minute
Drive (Business) 256 3 h 51 m 1.11
First Lord’s Fury (Fiction) 480 4 h 15 m 1.88
Beginning Ruby (Technical) 656 8 h 21 m 1.30

Just for a reference point, I read paperback fiction at around 2.3 – 2.5 pages/minute.  It goes down from there for technical and business type books.

So, I read slower on the Kindle.  Quite a bit slower, actually.  I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time, but then it dawned on me.  I have to turn the page MUCH more often.  There is the slightest delay as the screen redraws itself and it happens every time you hit the Next Page button.  I’m pretty sure that’s the culprit. 

Anyway, apart from the speed issue, I love the device.  I can get books in the airport, sitting in the car waiting for during my kids’ piano practice, or in my bed at one in the morning.  Some titles I’ve looked for and they don’t have for Kindle yet, but the vast majority of what I have wanted was right there.  It’s too easy, actually.  When you search on the device for books, the Buy button is highlighted by default and if you click on it, it’ll charge your card and start sending the book in less than 20 seconds.  Impressive, but dangerous for someone like me…

An (Unasked for) Update

Things are so crazy for me these days, I can barely remember to put on pants before leaving in the mornings.  Let me break it down for you.

  • Day Job – On my business card it says Chief Technology Officer.  No one really knows what a CTO does (shut up Justis), but at times it feels like being spackle.  You kind of spread one around and hope it fills all the gaps.  But seriously, I love my job.  I get to do a bunch of Lab/R&D type work testing out new products and figuring out where things fit.  I also get a huge lift from seeing technology put to good use and make people’s lives easier and more efficient.  It’s a tremendous amount of work to keep all the balls in the air, though.
  • Nashville IT Pro User Group – This endeavor started out as a “why not?” kind of thing and has actually come into being.  We had our first meeting yesterday and we had 18 people there.  I was thrilled to hear so much positive feedback and was very encouraged by the turn out.  Once we got past some minor logistical issues (like the outer doors being locked so no one could get in) it went very well.  We’ll be meeting the last Tuesday of every month, which will be great for the community, but also is looking to be a significant amount of work.
  • This Blog – I’ve been trying REALLY hard to post like clockwork on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Whether or not anything I write here makes any sense at all to you, it really clarifies things in my head for me.  I have to come up with the ideas, do my best to make them interesting and then actually sit down and write them.  Believe me, at times. it’s not as easy as I make it look.
  • Personal Chef Cook – I can’t call myself a Chef.  I’ve never been to Culinary School (although I do my best to live vicariously through my brother Dan), and I seriously doubt I ever will, but I love to cook.  I’ve been acting out my little chef fantasies for my friends on weekends and so far they haven’t seemed to mind.
  • Community Theater Widower – My multi-talented wife has been working as the Music Director for the Old School Theater’s production of Tom Sawyer.  She is HIGHLY dedicated and really cares about music and serving the community this way.  I’m always thrilled when she takes on jobs like this, because I end up spending a lot of time with my three kids on the weekends. 

Combine all this stuff with the surgery, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, and colds that this Petri-dish we call a family has been through just in the last ninety days and my Outlook calendar is pretty slammed.  I have to admit, though…life is pretty good.

      I Have Drunk The Kool-Aid

      And it is good.  I broke down and bought a Kindle the other day and it just showed up.  I have to say, I really like it.  I knew it was going to be compact and sleek, but I really am amazed at how well crafted the device is.  Also in the exceeding expectations department, I was dumbfounded by how easy the ordering/delivery of the book was.  Stunning.

      I know there is nothing new here, so at the request of a friend of mine, I’ll be doing some speed trials with this.  You may have gathered that I read a lot.  I also read very fast, at least I did on paper.  So I’ve selected a business book – Drive by Daniel Pink, a fiction book – First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher, and a technical book – Beginning Ruby by Peter Cooper.  These should give me the gamut as far as how reading on the Kindle stacks up versus paper for me.  More to follow.

      2009 Geek Lust Satisfying Gifts

      I have been accused of being hard to shop for.  I have to respectfully disagree with that notion.  I find it all too easy to shop for me.  I like to play with technology, I like to cook, I like to read and I play guitar a little.  To me that’s a fairly target rich environment.  Anyway, here is a list of surefire gifts for the geek in your life. 

      • Motorola DroidYou probably have seen the commercials.  (My favorite is the Misfit Toys one…)  This device is pretty sweet.  It’s sleek and angular, has a 3.7” screen and integrates with Google Everything.  Toss in GPS, Video and Music, and a 5 MP camera and you’ve got yourself some bona fide geek bait.
      • Kindle DXI absolutely love books.  I love bookstores.  I hate trying to pack around technical books.  They’re HUGE and you have to think in advance which ones you might need.  The Kindle solves all of that and most of the tech books cost about half of the print version.  The DX is quite a bit more expensive than the smaller one, but if you’re going to be reading a ton of tech material, it’s the only way to go!
      • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 This is a great sequel to a great game.  In the single-player campaign you play as a couple of different soldiers ranging from the British SAS Special Ops branch to a grunt in the US Army.  I particularly loved the missions set in Brazil and the very authentic graffiti and billboards and also the Portuguese cursing bad guys.  This game is fun even when I’m getting absolutely stomped while playing online.
      • Flip Ultra HD  This digital pocket camcorder will record 120 minutes of video in widescreen 720p high definition.  It’s a slick little device that’s easy to keep close at hand to catch those co-worker moments that just beg to posted on YouTube.  You know, like the first time you see one of them REALLY getting into Wii Boxing, for example.
      • Brain Bag by Tom Bihn – I have struggled with the ideal bag for years.  I’ve packed around the obligatory Tech Conference giveaway bags to cheap messenger bags to expensive leather shoulder bags.  This one spanks them all.  You can put a tremendous amount of stuff in this thing and it stands up to abuse like no other.  There’s even a slide show of them dropping an egg inside of the laptop case and it coming out just fine.  It’s not cheap, but it will be the last bag you ever buy.
      • Leatherman Skeletool CX – Working in technology occasionally will require actual physical tools.  Seriously, stop laughing.  I’m not talking about a torque wrench here.  Opening boxes full of shiny new toys, swapping out motherboard screws, trimming zip ties, you know, that kind of thing.  Anyway, playing the “who has the screwdriver game” may have sounded like fun in college, but not so much when you’re trying to get things done at work.  This tool is compact, versatile and well made.  (That’s what she…nah, not gonna go there…)
      • Dragon Age: Origins – As fun as I think Modern Warfare 2 is, it really doesn’t hold a candle to the good old fashioned sword and sorcery role playing game.  This is a great throwback to the Baldur’s Gate era of PC gaming and will help the most hardcore geek out there get his D&D on.  They even have it for Xbox and PS3.
      • Dell 3007WFP-HC 30” LCD – This one isn’t cheap, I’ll grant you.  But if you want to see a look of pure ecstasy on the geek in your life, this will almost certainly do the job.  It has fantastic color, great accessory features like USB, firewire and an SD port.  Killing zombies has NEVER looked so good. 
      • Razor Mamba Wireless Gaming Mouse – Ok, so 1200 buck might be out of your budget.  This wireless gaming mouse is a mere tenth of that amount and is also the best device in its class.  It has an ASTOUNDING 1ms response time and can be used either wirelessly or wired.  Even the packaging is a thing of beauty.
      • Titanium Spork – A roundup for geeks like this could not be complete without a titanium spork.  Eating is always a priority to the geek on the go and never has there been a more perfect utensil for it.  Seriously, it combines the liquid retention ability of a spoon with the impaling ability of a fork.  It’s really quite ingenious when you think about it…but wait!  This just in…a STAR TREK STARFLEET ACADEMY SPORK!!  Truly we live in an age of wonders.  I can die happy now.

      Encoding DVDs for XBox 360 and Windows Home Server

      This (really) should be the last post in this line.  My apologies to those who could care less about my media rantings. 

      In the last exciting episode, we got My Movies 3, WHS and my Xbox 360 to all play nice together.  Now let’s take the plunge and talk about how to rip and encode your DVDs.  First, you’re going to need a couple of programs.  One is free and the other, contrary to my strong predisposition towards only using free tools, is about 75 bucks.  That seems like a lot, but it is GREAT software and will make life much easier.  (Like when you’re trying to rip those damn Disney movies.)

      The tools are:

      Got those installed?  It’s ok, I’ll be here when you’re done.  Ready?

      1. Insert your DVD and after a second you’ll see AnyDVD spin up and tell you to wait while the disc gets ready. 
      2. Once the disc is ready open up Handbrake and you’ll see a screen that looks like this:

        Handbrake

      3. Click on the Source Button at the top left.  Select your DVD drive and it will tell you to wait a minute while it scans the disc.  Once it’s finished, choose the Xbox 360 Preset on the right hand side.  In the Destination field, select a location where you want the MP4 file to be saved.  I put my files on a drive that’s mapped to the server, and I learned through trial and error that you have to create a separate directory for each file for My Movies to index it.
      4. Once the file shows up in the directory,  My Movies will see the file, try to figure out which movie it is and add the cover art, cast info etc.  If it can’t figure it out, you can manually change it.

      Now that I’ve written up the steps to do this, it seems trivial.  Handbrake does all the work and it has an awesome preset to take the thinking out of it entirely.

      Windows Home Server and Xbox 360 Keep Kicking Me in the Head

      I spent all weekend looking to conquer the home media utopia.  I have gone through a seemingly eternal progression of media packages.  (Not that it was all pain.  I found some really cool software in the process.)

      First, I have to slightly amend my stated objectives for this project.  They now are:

      The “Must Have” List:

      1. It must store the media (music and movies mainly, photos are really an after thought for me) on a centralized, always on system. (Currently a Windows Home Server in my garage) 
        • This system must be stand-alone. For example, I don’t want to have to have a Media Center PC always on in addition to the home server.
      2. I must be able to use the content from:  My Windows 7 Ultimate PC, my Vista Slate, My Wife’s Vista PC, My Daughter’s Windows 7 Home Premium PC or the Xbox 360 in the living room.
      3. The movie content will be displayed GRAPHICALLY, like with cover art, so that my illiterate children (5 year old and soon the 1 year old) will be able to select movies without shouting across the house “WHAT DOES THIS SAY MAMA?”

      The “Would Be Nice” List:

      1. The ripping process should be relatively painless.
      2. Movie descriptions, ratings and cast info.
      3. If the disk space could be minimized, that would be great.

      The reason I had to update this list is because of My Movies 3.  This package ALMOST fits my requirements exactly.  I REALLY wanted this solution to work.  It has a Windows Home Server installer that works beautifully and client software that can be installed to do the actual DVD ripping and store the VOB files on the WHS shares. 

      image

      All of the content lives on the server and all you have to do install the client software on your Media Center PCs and a new section shows up inside of Media Center and allows you to see the cover art and movie info as well as play the content directly from the WHS share.  Great Right?  That gets me all of my must haves as well as my would be nice list. 

      I have two problems with the way this plays out on the Xbox which I didn’t think about when I was writing the requirements.  (This is called “Scope Creep”, by the way – or maybe just crappy requirements gathering.)  First, it requires that the Xbox be able to connect to a Media Center PC, which means it has to be on and accessible on the network.  The second problem is that once you get into the My Movies section of Media Center on the Xbox, it won’t play any media from the home server.  SO CLOSE!  I can’t imagine why the XBox can’t stream VOB files from a Network path (UNC either – I tried) on the Windows Home Server!!

      IMG_0564

      One of the other packages, tversity, seems like it would work (other than some flaky behavior on Windows Home Server) but it doesn’t seem to do cover art at all.  Another solution that would work for me with no additional software is just streaming MP4’s directly from the WHS to the Xbox.  The problem here is the ugly gray icons which only show the file name.  It doesn’t seem to respect the ID3 tags or embedded icons that show up on the file system.

      IMG_0562

      I’m sorry this got a little too techy (and ranting), but it has been a frustrating weekend.  I was lamenting to a friend of mine, and he said “Just teach your kids to read dude!”  Touche, Steve.  Touche.

      Media Utopia for the Home

      This is completely off topic.  It has nothing to do with business, and less to do with technology than my frustrations with getting my own junk to work.

      I have this pie in the sky ideas about what my home entertainment system should look like.  Allow me to break it down for you.

      The “Must Have” List:

      1. It must store the media (music and movies mainly, photos are really an after thought for me) on a centralized, always on system. (Currently a Windows Home Server in my garage)
      2. I must be able to use the content from:  My Windows 7 Ultimate PC, my Vista Slate, My Wife’s Vista PC, My Daughter’s Windows 7 Home Premium PC or the Xbox 360 in the living room.
      3. The movie content will be displayed GRAPHICALLY, like with cover art, so that my illiterate children (5 year old and soon the 1 year old) will be able to select movies without shouting across the house “WHAT DOES THIS SAY MAMA?”

      The “Would Be Nice” List:

      1. The ripping process should be relatively painless.
      2. Movie descriptions, ratings and cast info.
      3. If the disk space could be minimized, that would be great.

      So these are the things that I am after.  I have implemented some pieces of this system without having defined the whole, which has left me with a fragmented and disappointing solution.  I assure you that I know better, and to prove it, I’m going to chronicle my journey to accomplish the above.  Fasten your seat belts.

      Informative is Good, But I Like Pie

      So a friend of mine saw my Xobni plugin in Outlook today and the following conversation ensued:

      Tactless Friend:  What’s that in your Outlook?

      Me:  It’s Xobni….wait didn’t you read my blog?

      TF:  Uhhh, errr, everyone blogs these days…err, no.

      Me:  Man, damn.

      TF:  I’ll be sure to read it now….it’s funny right?

      Me:  Uhh, errr, not funny per se….no.

      TF:  Informative is good…but I like funny.

      Me:  [in desperate justification] I wasn’t really going for funny.  I want to help people out with technology issues.  I can be funny.

      TF:  Sure you can.

      Me:  [pathetically] Really, you know I’m funny.  You laugh all the time.

      TF:  Right.

      Being funny in person is different than being funny in writing.  I get a good amount of laughs in meetings or over dinner, but as I read back over these posts, I’m not really even making myself laugh (which isn’t hard to do).  My wife manages to be funny in writing without even trying.  I’m going to have to look for some cartoons or something to liven the place up.

      Lesson learned:  be funny or you suck. 

      New (or Re-Newed) Focus of this Blog

      So I’ve been playing around with this blog thing for a couple of months now and have come to a realization.  I have the attention span of a gnat.  I had an idea that I’d like to help folks that were not technical learn to cope with technology for their businesses and their lives.  I have worked with (and been one myself) small business owners for many years and I’ve noticed that a lot of common ground there.  I thought that I would be able to put some things out there that would help.  I’m sure the 2 people that have read this blog have noticed that I’ve gone all over the board.  I’ve talked about Exchange, remote tools for administering servers, sharepoint and a bunch of other stuff. 

      NO MORE, I say!

      I am refocused on my objective of giving help, advice and tips to folks who need it, especially small business owners.  If either of you reading this have any questions or suggestions for problems you’d like help with, please post them here or you can email me at dave.purdon@gmail.com and I’ll be glad to respond.