Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Kindles!

Amazon has just presented new Kindles!

Most people will be focused on the Kindle Fire - a 7-inch, color touch screen device with an 8-hour battery primarily used for Amazon eBooks, music, movies, TV shows and apps, all for $200. Amazon will sell a lot of these, and it looks great. However, I'm not expecting to buy one, for the same reason I didn't buy an iPad 2: my original iPad still gets the job done just fine. However, if you're looking to by a tablet, this looks like a worthy contender.

I'm far more interested in the new e-Ink Kindles. The new base Kindle (non-touch) is available for just $79, and is available today. At that price, this is going to be a huge seller at Christmas. However, I'd probably get the reduced-price $99 Kindle Keyboard if I was going that route.

The Kindle Touch is the product I'm interested in. Amazon has ditched the old hardware keyboard and is using a system of infrared sensors to enable a touch-screen interface. This is the same system the Barnes and Noble Nook Simple Touch uses, and worked even better than I expected when I test-drove a Nook at the local B&N last night. I'm on the fence as to whether I want the 3G version or not. It's an extra $50, and with a little forethought probably wouldn't be that necessary. But when I'm traveling, having that free, world-wide 3G connection sure is appealing, especially with the experimental web browser built into the Kindle.

A few caveats: the Kindles don't come with covers or chargers, just a USB cable. Not having a cover included is a downer, but who really needs another USB wall wart? Also, the pricing: the advertised prices for the e-Ink Kindles are all for the ad-subsidized versions. If you don't want ads on your sleep screen, it'll cost an extra forty bucks. On the other hand, all the ads to-date have looked pretty attractive. I might be willing to put up with them.

The Kindle Touch (4th gen) and Kindle Keyboard (3rd gen).
All in all, it's a pretty decent upgrade. The screens appear to be the same component used in the previous generation, with the new IR touch sensors embedded in the bezel. I still think the Kindle Keyboard is more attractive, both in color and form. But it may be about time to retire my venerable first-generation Kindle.

The 1st generation Kindle.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The Unofficial Apple Weblog posted a rumor yesterday speculating on a new voice interface (called "Assistant" in the post) that may be coming with the next iPhone.
We're told that you can speak to the Assistant in your normal tone and speed of voice; it's that accurate. Assistant is also integrated with Wolfram Alpha, so you could also ask your iPhone questions like "Convert 10.2 acres to hectares" or "What's the cube root of 924?" and get an immediate answer.
I have no idea if this is actually coming with the next Apple product, but I'm convinced that something like this is coming in the near future. And it sounds really, really cool. After all, what could be better than asking a question to the air and having your phone spit out the correct answer?

But as cool as this is, it's also worrying. When you don't have to put any effort into learning something, it doesn't stick with you. At the most basic level, this is the same problem as needing a calculator to figure out that 3 x 4 = 12. As human beings, we shouldn't need a technological crutch to navigate through basic aspects of life.

Having said that, you can still bet I'll be all over this feature, if and when it ships.

* * *

One other interesting bit from the article:
One more fascinating feature that is likely to be packed with privacy settings is "Find my Friends." With this feature, you could ask your phone "Where's Erica Sadun?" and (provided she's made her location information available to me) the iPhone would display her location.
Again, there's no way to know if this is real or not, but after the brouhaha about iPhone tracking earlier this year, Apple had better be very careful about how they present a feature like this. I think it would be fantastic to have a service that would let me know when friends are nearby ("enhanced serendipity", if you will) but it would be pretty easy to forget you had this enabled, or to forget who had access to your location. I've been publishing my general location for over a year now, but only a few people have had access to my pinpoint, real-time location. It's not something you would trust to just anyone.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ISS Time-Lapse Video

A very cool time-lapse video from the International Space Station. Seeing lightning storms from space is fascinating. From the YouTube description:
A time-lapse taken from the front of the International Space Station as it orbits our planet at night. This movie begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America before entering daylight near Antarctica. Visible cities, countries and landmarks include (in order) Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, El Salvador, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Lake Titicaca, and the Amazon. Also visible is the earth’s ionosphere (thin yellow line), a satellite (55sec) and the stars of our galaxy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wildfire Aftermath

Two months after a wildfire swept through...

And people don't believe me when I say I'm not concerned about wildfires anymore, because there's nothing left to burn :-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Photo Map

So this is how I spend my Friday nights. After playing with Google Fusion Tables for a bit, I got pretty excited about mapping my photos. Fusion Tables is definitely a beta product, but it's fantastic at turning a table or a Google Earth file into a nice map.

If you click on a pinpoint, the corresponding photo will pop up.

I've been working on my digital photos for quite a while now, categorizing, getting rid of duplicates and bad shots, and geo-tagging my old photos, and making sure to keep up on that kind of thing with all my new photos. Last night I uploaded a bunch of photos from my college and high school years. You can check out the galleries here. I'm still missing my big European summer of 2006. Cleaning up those photos is an on-going project. I started with close to 2000 photos (almost 200 of which were of the Eiffel Tower) taken by six different people. Getting rid of junk photos (I have sooo many blurry photos of stained-glass windows), sorting them chronologically (nobody had the date/time on their cameras set accurately in 2006) and accurately geo-tagging everything has been quite the chore.

My sister has been working on digitally scanning the negatives of my mom's old photos, so hopefully I'll eventually be able to add photos of the vacation to Hawaii and the two-month RV trip around the contiguous United States.

Oh, and just for the heck of it, here's the Photo Map and the Google Latitude Map overlaid on each other:

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Last Twelve Months

I've been tracking myself (or more accurately: my phone) with Google Latitude for a little over a year now. During that time I've been in (or at least passed through) six countries on four continents, traveling some 76,000 miles. Not bad. Here are the actual data points for August 2010 through August 2011 mapped out:

Now I wish I had figured out this geo-tracking thing earlier. When I have spare time, I'll try to import previous years based on geo-tagged photos.

One Country, Many Nations?

I read a post by Tobias Buckell this morning that got me thinking. It seems that when ever I get into a conversation with someone who is not from the USA, I run into the perception that the United States is a single homogeneous entity (and unfortunately, that perception is largely shaped by "Friends" and "The Simpsons"). It's difficult to fully convey how diverse my country really is: that the West Coast is not like the East Coast, that opinions can vary greatly between urban and rural areas, and that sometimes people who grew up in the same country speaking the same language can barely understand each other (I had a fun time listening to a guy from Boston try to talk with a guy from Louisiana a few years ago).

"Pop", "Soda", and "Coke" by county.
In a lot of ways, the US can be thought of as an empire made up of many different countries, unified by a common currency, over-arching federal laws, and television. Common currency allows easy trade between regions, federal laws work to promote equality throughout the country, and television enables cross-cultural pollination and keeps American English from fracturing into a dozen dialects. I'm sure this concept has been around for a long time. It was first clearly stated to me in Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. And after living in Washington State, Michigan, and Texas, the "one country, many nations" idea rings true. Climate, architecture, accent, industry and fashion all showed significant differences between those three locations. I found this image of emerging "mega-regions" from the America 2050 site particularly interesting:

I really like the term "Cascadia" for the Pacific Northwest.
Tobias Buckell has a few more charts on his blog that are worth a look.

So this has all been interesting to think about, but are there any conclusions that can be drawn from this line of thought? Off the top of my head:
  • Television is important to the health of our identity as a single country.
  • High-Speed Rail proposals have a pretty close correlation to these mega-regions
  • In-country tourism should be strongly encouraged so Americans can really understand all that it means to be an "American".

Any other thoughts or ideas? Sound off in the comments!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Standing Desk Part II

Cornell University has weighed in on the standing vs. sitting at work debate. Their conclusion is that while standing is arguably better than sitting in terms of calories burned, standing alone isn't sufficient - actually moving about is required.

In my experience over several months of working at a standing desk, all their points ring true. Fine motor control (typing) definitely took a hit for awhile, and standing was definitely more tiring at first. But my typing while standing is nearly as fast now as it is when I'm sitting, and after the first week my feet stopped bothering me. One thing I think the Cornell study missed is that I am much more likely to move around - both in terms of shifting my feet and weight, and in walking down the hall to the printer or co-worker's office - than I was when I sat while I worked.

On a personal level, I've noticed a huge improvement in my posture since I started standing. I actually get uncomfortable when I slouch on the couch now.

Standing at work is not a silver bullet, and I've taken a LOT of crap from my co-workers for my crazy computer set-up, but it's accomplishing what I wanted it to: improving my posture and keeping me more alert at work.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Took an unexpected trip up to Seattle over Labor Day weekend. Got to walk along a river, check out the state fair, attend a church potluck and hike a mountain. And spend some quality time with my family.