Ad Killing: My Guilty Obsession

Escape Graffiti - Lisbon, PortugalFor this past Christmas, my parents bought us a subscription to a major monthly periodical. While the magazine isn’t my favorite, I do enjoy paging through it from time to time. As with any magazine it has its good articles, and a lot of over-hyped mediocre ones. But the thing I enjoy most about the magazine is tearing out the pages that have full-page ads on both sides.

And you’d be surprised how many of them there are. (Well, maybe you wouldn’t, if you’re still a member of the rapidly shrinking population that still pays for things like magazines and newspapers.) The magazine literally reduces in size by half. It’s immensely satisfying, but what’s troubling is that there is so many ads in a magazine that people actually pay for. If you think about it, similar content online is available online for free, and with less obnoxious, intrusive ads. I can’t remember the last time I saw two full page ads, back-to-back between the webpages of an article (or blog post) on the internet. Every now and then you do see a full page, “you’ll be redirected to what you want to see after staring at this ad for the next 10 seconds” advertisement, but I think those are generally frowned on, and pretty rare. So why on earth does any magazine think it’s a good idea to show a full page ad for soup, followed by a full page ad for knock-out pills, followed by three pages of technical medical jargon for said pill? It’s kind of like borrowing a fiver from your friend, and then punching him in the gut after he gives it to you. Only it’s the magazine publisher collecting the the money and delivering the sucker punch.

Don’t get the impression that I like online advertisements. I think they’re an online business necessity, and occasionally, when done right, they’re actually a service to the viewer. But for every well placed, content relevant ad I see online, I see a hundred stupid animated banners featuring idiots dancing because they got an average rate on their mortgage. How the hell is that relevant to checking my email? Or reading the latest serious news on lolcats? (I just really wanted to put “lolcats” and “serious” in the same sentence.) iPod-esque, manic dancing silhouettes are not only completely obnoxious when you’re using the internet for something work related, they’re distracting. And of course that’s the point. That’s why I’ve been serial internet ad-killer for the last 8 years.

My current preferred tool is FireFox’s popular Adblock Plus add-on. It comes with a huge database of ad spam URLs, which it automatically blocks. What I really like about the add-on is that it adds options to your right click context menu. When you see an offending, obnoxious, whack-the-lolcat ad, you simply right click on it, and select “Adblock Image” from the menu, and it goes away. Awesome. Take that stupid tattoo-a-mortgage-rate-the-back-of-some-guy’s-head ad! Ha Ha! If that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. (Whether or not I actually know what fun is can be debated in the comments.)

Before executing that plaid-suited idiot that’s trying to push cars, auto insurance, or crack on you from his tiny box with the click of a button, I used to be a bit more hard core. How hard core? I used to update the windows’ hosts file to point all the worst offending domains (doubleclick, for instance, and no, I won’t link there) to the localhost IP address. (Non-technical translation: I tricked the browser into looking for ad images on my laptop instead of looking where they actually live.) If Adblock is a precision strike on a banner ad target, updating the hosts file is napalming the countryside of a advertiser’s domain. And I like napalm. :twisted: I keep a desktop shortcut to the hosts file on all my PCs. Still. I like to think of it as the red button. And, yes, I have scanned through the source of a web page to find the source of particularly annoying ads.

If you share my passion eliminating ridiculous animated hippo banners and would like to learn more about my napalm approach, here’s some links to get you started. (Note: I have not looked deeply into these websites, and would advise caution in downloading or installing anything from them. Reading through their content should give you the specifics you need to make changes on your own.)

  • A premade ad-blocking hosts file available for download here.
  • Another one here.
  • One more, with bit more information here.

Of course, I should tell you that changing the hosts file may have unintended consequences. Sometimes in your attempt to block an ad, you break a website. (I’ve broken hotmail several times in the past.) Fortunately, you can easily fix that by removing whatever block you put in, but this process may be beyond less technical users. Adblock Plus is a good option for the less technical.

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Up For Grabs: Free Month Of NetFlix

[UPDATE: These codes are out of date. You can find the latest codes here.]

I keep getting these things in the mail from NetFlix encouraging me to give coupons to people to sign up. (Or buy them a subscription, which is even more annoying.) I guess somebody in their marketing department thinks customers actually want to make the rounds in the office and the community as a probono salesman for them. At least Vonage used to give you a free month for anybody you helped sign up (may be they still do, I don’t know).

Well, just because I’m a nice guy and in the off chance somebody out there is interested in starting up a NetFlix membership, here’s all the information you need to snag a free month of service.

Go Here: http://www.netflix.com/tellafriend

And use one of these priority codes:

  • M69434362225
  • M14994526905

You have until 6/30/07.

Note: I can’t guarantee that these codes will work, I assume it’s a first come, first serve deal. If you use one, let me (and everybody else) know by leaving a comment. The hard copies (which don’t have any more information that what you already have now) have already become confetti. :)

[UPDATE: Wow, I really underestimated the amount of interest in this! :shock: As of the time of this update, this post has driven at least 70 hits to my blog. Around 45 of those was on a single day! And I didn't submit this post to Digg or any similar social bookmarking site. Man, I really hope these codes are re-usable and that 70 people have gotten a free month! :)

If NetFlix sends me another, I'll be sure to post it. I'll probably also post any other neat freebies like this I get in the future. Anybody want a 12 for 1 BMG membership? Lemme know, I can hook you up with that also! :lol: ]

Turkey And Google Language Tools: Feewing Wucky?

I’m happy to say that I’ve been blogged about, and partially translated, in another language for the first time! How cool is that? Well, actually, I’m not sure how cool it is. I can’t read Turkish. Theoretically, the entire post could be a great string of creative and exotic euphemisms describing how much my blog is silly rubbish and I’m a smelly monkey. Depending on how creative it was, it actually might be even better than an impartial or complementary post.

As a guy with a decent ability to scour the internet to find the information I need, I decided to take my language problem online. Immediately AltaVista’s BabelFish implementation came to mind. I’ve used it the past when I’m trying to decipher the finer points of technical pointers and problem resolutions I find from time to time on German and French language newsgroups. (Having had a small amount of training on both languages, I always try to figure out what’s being said first, before using the cheat-o-matic BabelFish.) No dice. Babel fish does not translate from, or to, Turkish.

The same holds true for another player in the translation market, WorldLingo. The offer quite a few different translations, but up to a limit of 150 words. (*cough* LAME! *cough*, *cough*) Since other online translators don’t have this limitation, I don’t see myself using them all that much in the future. But I would have used them this time, had they translated Turkish text.

And then there were odd sites like Learning Practical Turkish, that didn’t so much offer translation services, as much as erotic Turkish texts, Turkish idioms and a dictionary of “Off Color” Turkish words and phrases. Since my search for knowledge was reaching a dead end, it might as well be funny. :)

Speaking of funny, somewhere along the way, I came across a link to Google Languages Tools. Google does everything else under the sun, why not translations? And while they do seem to have a pretty comprehensive list of translations (including those not involving English as either a “from” or a “to”), I was again out of luck when it came to Turkish. So why did this page come up in my search? Well, because Google offers it’s interface in Turkish:

Turkish Google

Pretty cool, huh? But wait it gets cooler. And funnier. Here’s a few of my favorite “translated” Google interfaces:

Bork Bork Bork (The Muppet’s Swedish Chef)

Google Bork Bork Bork

Elmer Fudd

Elmer Fudd Google

And a few more…

OK, so what have I learned? Not all that much, really. Significant language and cultural barriers still exist in some areas. And I’ve found an area where all online translators can make improvements in their offerings: translate Turkish! Do it for me, so I can feel the love (or disdain) of my fellow bloggers in Turkey!

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5 Tips For Success In I.T. Consulting

You don’t have to look like this to be a good I.T. consultant.[This post has been written in response to the group writing project being run by problogger.]

I’ve been an independent I.T. consultant for nearly 8 years now, and I love the life. And I often wonder why more people don’t do what I do, especially those that find themselves stuck in a salaried job they hate. The answer is always seems to boil down to fear of instability and the unknown.

I think perhaps if people had a better understanding of how consulting works, and what it takes to be successful at it, they be more likely to try it. That’s where this list comes in. Perhaps it will help to alleviate some fears and empower some people to make a positive change professionally. For others, it may make it clear to them that their traditional salaried job is the way to go. Either way, a good thing.

1.) Learn to love interviewing. An interview is often the thing that stands between you and that next contract. It is to your advantage to make interviewing one of your talents. How do you do that? Practice and preparation are the methods of my interviewing madness. I try to make a point of doing “throw away” interviews.

A “throw away interview” is an interview for a job I’m almost certain I either won’t get based on my qualifications, or am not likely to take if offered. (Some “throw aways” have surprised me and turned into great contracts!) It’s a great way to get practice, and develop your personal sales pitch and I.T. anecdotes.

For preparation, I make a point of reviewing common interview questions, and all the information I can find on the business I’m about to interview with. I usually try to come up with a few questions for the interviewers ahead of time, so I’m ready when they ask if I have any questions for them. It’s generally considered a negative not to have at least one, and the more you get them talking about the business and the project, the more favorable opinion they’re likely to have of you! :)

2.) Socialize and keep in touch with former clients and co-workers. You can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s important to maintain a network of professional contacts who will vouch for your skills and pass along word of new contract opportunities to you when you need them. Though it’s not quite socializing, I recommend using a professional contact site like LinkedIn to help you manage your professional contacts, and save per contract recommendations. (I have been able to use these saved recommendations in the place of names and phone numbers a number

3.) Be flexible, embrace risk. I like to tell people I’m in the business of selling risk mitigation. It’s true, I actually am paid for hours spent writing code, but part of what determines my rate of pay is the risk I free my clients from. I free them from the risk of hiring a bad employee. If I don’t work out, I can be let go on a moment’s notice. I’m also first on the chopping block if there are budgeting cut backs. How do I deal with the uncertainty? By charging higher rates than salaried people can expect to receive, and by building up my financial reserves. You’d be surprised how stable a contractor’s life can be. :)

4.) Play with your technology. One question that always seems to come up in interviews is “what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done with technology X” or “describe the most interesting project you’ve worked on.” The people interviewing you sometimes look at you as neat new gadget for the office. What can you do, they wonder. What new things will this guy bring to our team? It pays to have an interesting tale or two about cool uses of technology. And if all you do is “glorified string parsing” (an actual quote from a former colleague), it’s a good idea to make up some project work for yourself at home. Build a tool, throw together a website, and make a point to do it with the coolest technology you can get your hands on. It’ll make it fun, and it’ll give you some serious geek cred.

5.) Keep track of trends, read relevant I.T. blogs and magazines. In order to continue to work in I.T., you need to constantly be learning new things. Or at the very least aware of the latest buzzworthy technology emerging in your area of expertise. If you don’t have time to do #4 (which is likely if you’re on a death-march project), you do have to pop a few blogs in Google Reader or flip through a technology meeting from time to time. As a consultant, it looks bad if you don’t at least have an idea of what somebody is talking about, even if it’s not directly related to your expertise. (Sorry, but it really does.)

And a special bonus pointer!

6.) Put your resume up on every career site you find. Monster, HotJobs, Dice, etcetera, you should have your resume up on all of them. While you are actively searching for that next gig, I recommend making small changes and updates to your resume every 2 weeks on these websites. Recruiters swarm on the most recently updated resumes and after around 2 weeks, your buzz, and therefor, your exposure to new contracts will be diminished.

[UPDATE: I missed the cut-off for the last day to top-5-goodness, but feel free to check out my double sized animal-related top 5!]

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Are eBooks Actually Cheaper?

The Sony eBook ReaderIn previous posts, I’ve done a pretty good job of putting together a solid, if not slightly biased collection of information on the Sony Reader. I’ll admit it, I’m a borderline fanboy, I really enjoy my Sony Reader. I think they’re great, and I really hope it will be phenomenally successful. What’s in it for me? Greater availability of eBooks, at more competitive prices. I don’t get any kick-backs from Sony to hype the reader, I just genuinely think its a fun product in spite of its flaws. (At least I don’t get kick-backs yet. Sony, baby, let’s talk! 8) )

In an attempt to be a bit more objective and helpful to the steady flow of visitors looking for information on the Sony Reader, I’ve decided to investigate the accuracy of much-touted 20% discount on eBooks sold through the Sony eBook store. For comparison, I’ve selected Amazon.com. This is both because it’s really convenient, and because people who buy eBooks have likely purchased books from Amazon in the past.

Title Amazon Sony Savings %
The Secret $13.17 $13.59 -$0.42 -3.18%
The Tipping Point $8.97 $7.99 $0.98 10.92%
Freakonomics $16.77 $15.96 $0.81 4.83%
Einstein $19.20 $13.59 $5.61 29.21%
The Road $8.97 $7.96 $1.01 11.25%
Running with the Demon $7.99 $5.59 $2.40 30.03%
Wikinomics $16.35 $20.76 -$4.41 -26.97%
Step On a Crack $17.63 $14.39 $3.24 18.37%
Simple Genius $14.84 $15.19 -$0.35 -2.35%
The World Is Flat $16.50 $12.00 $4.50 27.27%
Getting Things Done $8.99 $12.00 -$3.01 -33.48%
Where Have All the Leaders Gone? $15.00 $13.59 $1.41 9.40%
 
Summary: $164.38 $152.61 $11.77 7.16%

I’m being honest here, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. (I was pulling for the Reader, but I was prepared to eat crow.) I selected books based mostly on name/cover recognition, assuming that books I recognize are likely to be books people are interested in buying. To improve my chances of being correct, I picked my books from the Amazon’s and Sony’s lists of best sellers. I have, of course, excluded books that are not yet available through the Sony Connect eBook store. I also tried to pick a few books that have been around a while but have solid name recognition. At least a few books on this list are now in paper back. Shipping costs have been excluded from consideration, but will alter the results for single book purchases in favor of Sony.

So based on my semi-scientific, semi-objective list, on average, it is to your advantage to buy eBooks from the Sony store. :D If you bought the entire list from the Sony store, you’d spend $152.61, saving $11.77 or 7.16% compared with a $164.38 Amazon purchase. (So much for the reported 20% savings.) What’s really interesting is that it is more expensive to buy from Sony in some cases. For example, for the privilege of having a digital copy of the book, you pay an extra $3.01 for Getting Things Done and $4.41 for Wikinomics. Clearly, if you were interested in just one of those books, your best bet is to buy it through Amazon (depending on how much you pay for shipping). If you were able to find Amazon prices for either of these in your local book shop, you’d clearly be ahead.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re expecting the Sony Reader to pay for itself, you’d have to buy $21,875 worth of books to break even. If the average book is price is $12.72 (it is in this list), that means you’d need to buy roughly 1720 books. So I think it’s safe to say that the Sony Reader will never pay for itself based on purchases of bestsellers, at least for most people. (Of course, these figures do not take into consideration the volume eBooks available for free through sources like ManyBooks.net.)

OK, Brian, so why buy it? You need to buy this because you love to read. And because you love cool, compact gadgets that store a ton of stuff. If you’re looking for cost effectiveness, you need to either not buy it or take a chance at finding a deal on eBay. Or you could wait and see if the price comes down. I think it will, but I have nothing to base that on.

My previous posts on the Sony Reader:

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Adventures In Phone Phishing

These phish just want to be caught…Last night the phone rang. The land line phone. (Don’t ask me why I have one, that’s a story for a Hidden Costs Of Home Ownership post that’s been running around in my head.) I was tired, and am unused to dealing with telemarketers after so many years of wireless freedom. So in that short moment between when the phone rang I didn’t devise a clever plan to annoy or frustrate the evening’s invader.

However, I did have the wherewithal to notice immediately that the telemarketer avoided naming the company he was calling from when he offered to send me $100 in gas coupons and a phone card. Nor could he pronounce the name of the home office he was calling from (which he reported to be Reno, Nevada). Also fun was that the gas coupons could be used at any gas station, anywhere. I guess that means the coupons must be manufacturers coupons. I didn’t even know gas companies had manufacturer’s coupons!

And of course, with the hook baited in such a silly manner, it was time for our antagonist, the heavily accented telemarketer to reel in his catch. Because of all the money I had made for his company’s many stores, I could have all this for just the low cost of shipping. Only $5.99.

Tired though I may be, I hung up on him. I could smell the foul odor a mile away. The stench of a phisherman. I only let him ramble this long to get the complete scoop.

Phishing, as you probably already know is the dark art of impersonating someone reputable in order to con people out of their credit card or other bank account number. With all the attention being paid these days to email and other internet scams, I’m concerned that people may not be as on their guard when it comes to the phone. To my knowledge, this is the first overt phishing phone call I’ve ever gotten. Perhaps since the heat is on online, they’re resorting to the cooler waters of traditional land lines?

Some quick tips you should already know:

  • If it sounds to good to be true (like winning a contest you didn’t enter), it is. Well, for everybody but the scammer.
  • If things don’t add up, it’s because you don’t see the full equation. The part you don’t see is all the subtraction about to take place in your bank account.
  • If you didn’t make the call don’t buy anything.
  • If, for some strange reason you’re convinced it’s OK to buy great unexpected deal you didn’t know you wanted, have them bill you. Don’t pay for anything over the phone.

This has been a public service announcement from your friend at Brian’s Random Thoughts.

UPDATE: The same scammer called again today (5/9) while I was at work. He made his pitch to my wife, and when she turned him down, he said that I gave him my approval for it. What the dishonest bozo doesn’t know that my wife and I discussed it at length, and I’ve blogged about it! Next time he calls, I’m going to try to get his name and alleged employers name… :twisted:

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Why eBooks Are Bound to Reign Supreme

The Sony eBook ReaderMike Elgan clearly didn’t read my post on the Sony Reader before he wrote his Computer World article Why e-books are bound to fail. (Side note: Don’t you just hate it when they split an article across several linked pages? Is that crap usability or what?) I’m nailing at least 20 page views a day at this point, so you’d think he’d have heard the news: My wife is carrying on a love affair with my Sony Reader.

My wife is not some silly Sony Reader fangirl; in fact she kept trying to talk me out of buying it. Nor does she have advanced technical prowess. She’s capable with word, excel and an internet browser. And yet in spite of her lack of slide rule aptitude, she curls up every night with my Sony Reader. Yep, Mr. Elgan, she curls up with it. It’s actually a surprisingly easy thing to do. I thought you’d like to hear about it, as you twice mentioned your doubts on the “curling up” scenario.

Of course my wife’s behavior is purely anecdotal, but then so is the example of one book being only $1.25 cheaper on ebooks.com than Amazon. Many books are free on websites like ManyBooks.net. Free beats any price you can find on Amazon. Of course, many of these free texts are classics, but classics are heavily read each year by both students and literature junkies.

As the price of the hardware comes down (and it will), a few lingering quirks are worked out (OK, there’s more than a few), and more eBooks become available at competitive prices. I absolutely believe you will begin to see eBook Readers take off. It already has in the technically-savvy bookworm community. The reduced price will help it spread into the academic and business/road warrior community, and eventually into the non-technical, novel reading community.

And even if I’m wrong, it’s only a matter of time before the feature creep of mobile phones, MP3 players and PDA’s expands to include improved eBook reading features. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of eInk. It’s too revolutionary. While you might be correct in the sense that none of current line of readers will become the next iPod, eBook readers are not going away.

UPDATE: I originally wrote this most of this post last night, and in a great ironic twist, I found my wife curled up with an analog reader. Yeah, a paper book. I was shocked. I asked her why she wasn’t hogging my reader. She said there “weren’t any nice books left on it.” She had polished off Infidel and The Science of Getting Rich (the original The Secret) and wasn’t interested in reading my Allan Quatermain novels. Looks like Sony will be getting a few more bucks from me soon.

UPDATE 2: I think I’ve found my next purchase. Chuck Palahniuk (a Portland/Pacific Northwest Author!) has a new book Rant on the Sony ebook website.

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The Sony Reader: Too Good For Me To Use

The Sony eBook ReaderMan I just love a title that leaves you thinking, “what the hell is he talking about?!” If you’ve read this blog very long, you’ve already realized that. Anyway, what I mean is that the Sony eBook Reader is such a great gadget, and so much like reading a book (sometimes better because it’s so light) that my wife has stolen it from me.

That’s right. To steal a term from my friend and technology uber-guru Scott Hanselman, the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is off-the-charts high. As you know, it’s usually very difficult to get your wife to OK the purchase of a new gadget, especially if it causes any redundancy with any the stuff you already have. Occasionally, you’ll get a grudging acknowledgment that something was worth getting. (I’m still waiting on that for the killer 5-day wireless weather forecaster I bought a week or so ago… these things take time…) But you almost never get the kind of response I got to the Sony Reader… She’s taken it, and won’t give it back!

Ok, since I tagged this post as a review, let’s get to what I think about it in more useful detail.

What I Like About the Reader:

  • My wife loves it. This makes it very easy to buy eBooks for it. It just makes it difficult to read them.
  • It’s very easy to read. In fact, reading it is like reading a book. I know this because I still catch myself reaching up to the corner of the reader to flip the page. Because of the marvels of eInk, you can read it at virtually any angle, as long as you have a light on. (It isn’t backlit, but there’s a reason for that…)
  • It’s very light. The reader is smaller and lighter than most hardback books. Though it isn’t small enough to fit into a normal shirt pocket, it fits easily into a medium sized purse (WAF again) or a backpack.
  • The battery lasts forever. Seriously, this thing goes for weeks without needing a recharge. I find myself uploading books and accidentally recharging it before I can use up the battery. (This was sort of annoying when I was waiting to see what the I’ve-Run-Out-Of-Juice behavior was like.) Part of what allows it to last this long is that it is not backlit, and it only uses power when you turn pages. I haven’t used the MP3 abilities for this yet (other than to test that it worked), so the mileage for sound will likely be less.
  • eBooks are cheaper than regular books. Sometimes they’re free! The Sony Connect eBook store has a selection of eBooks that is lacking in some areas (some popular authors and topics are completely missing or under represented), but it is improving. The books it does have, which include many new and bestseller selections is typically 20% cheaper than the physical book and even more discount for older titles. Of course, that’s if you even buy any books. There are a ton of free, Sony Reader formatted books available on ManyBooks.net for download. There are so many, in fact, that I’ll be probably won’t need to actually buy a book until next year. And no, it isn’t just old Sherlock Holmes novels. (Though there are quite a few of them, aren’t there?)
  • You can read RTF and text documents. I love being able to grab a huge hunk of text, an article I want to read later, or some online book, and save it as a RTF document (easy to do with Microsoft Word) or a text document. (I actually do this a lot more often than you might expect.) This also has the potential to very handy for anyone in transit that needs to get up to speed on project documentation.
  • You can read blogs on it. You can’t see it online, but the software that comes with the reader allows you to download the latest from 20 different popular blogs including Lifehacker, WiredNews, and Engadget. Many are disappointed by this limitation, but I only read blogs on my reader when I’m flying some place, so it’s not a big deal to me. However, there is a tool out there that many people aren’t aware of named Web2book (originally RSS2book) which allows you to convert any feed into a format readable on the Sony Reader.
  • Multiple bookmarks in multiple books (and blogs too). Bookmarking is an essential feature of the Sony Reader, as it does not give you a method jumping to a specific page. (It does do a good job of remembering your last place in each book you’ve opened, even if you don’t bookmark it, which is nice.) Apparently, you can have as may as you want, I’ve had several pages worth of bookmarks in a single book with even more bookmarks in other books. Handily, it will let you view all your bookmarks in all your books at once, or by individual book.

What I Don’t Like About the Reader:

  • My wife loves it. She’s usually already got it during my prime reading time (i.e. just before bed), which means I’m stuck with the old school paper format.
  • The sad “Connect Reader” software that comes with it. The program responsible for transferring files from your PC to the Sony Reader really wants to be something slick, like iTunes. But the interface breaks so many usability standards, leaving you confused and irritated until you get used to it. When I first started using it, I kept “ejecting” the reader from the application when I was trying to upload files. Actually downloading RSS feeds is a bit of a puzzle too.
  • No search capability. That’s right, you can’t search for a word or a phrase at all. Which means the Reader provides no advantage over traditional books for people needing to read a lot of reference material. Linking inside an eBook is possible (some books have a linked table of contents), so in theory, and index in the back of the book would become easier to use.
  • No jump-to-page functionality. The Reader badly needs a way for the user to jump specifically to a page number. It does allow you to move in percentages through the book by using a set of 10 buttons along the lower side of the screen, but how often do you need to jump 60% into a book? (I have a feeling that this may be in the works, its seems to be the single beef I see the most mentioned around the internet.)
  • Poor PDF support. There are a lot of eBooks and documentation out there in PDF format, and the Sony Reader’s PDF support is really poor. It basically takes the PDF and shrinks it to fit the Reader’s screen. That may not sound bad, but if the PDF is designed to be printed on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper, it means your 12 point font becomes a 7 point font. Even worse if there are borders. Unless the PDF was designed properly for the Reader’s smaller screen, you won’t be able to read it without a magnifying glass. (There is a rumor that you get better results trying to read PDF’s in landscape mode, but I’ve never tried this… feel free to comment if you have! :) )

What I Just Don’t Care About:

  • The reader’s audio playback. It’s not an MP3 player. And I usually don’t listening to music when I’m reading. I can see this as potentially being OK for listening to audio books when your eyes get tired, but there are a ton of itty-bitty MP3 players out there, get one of those.
  • The picture quality. It’s not a photo album, and does anybody really want to read a comic book in grayscale? (Unless of course, it was in black and white to begin with…) I guess it’s nice to keep a picture of the wife, kids and dog when you’re away on business, but that’s about as far as that goes for me.

UPDATE: Who This Gadget is For:

I just scanned this post again, and it felt like it needed a bit of guidance as to who would most enjoy this gadget, and who would find it disappointing and overpriced. It’s pretty simple (no need for bullet points), this gadget is for people who like to read books that are the cover-to-cover, front-to-back. People who read mostly comic or art books will likely find the display disappointing and those that want to store a bunch of reference books will find it hard to navigate quickly. (There are very few technical books available for the reader anyway.)

I think it’s incorrect to say that this is only for people who like to read “the classics” (which are free, and worth reading), this is just as much for anyone who likes to read the latest Chrichton book or best-selling self help tome.

And I’ll say it again, this isn’t a gadget for somebody who might read books, but is really looking for an MP3 player or a picture frame.

Some Other Sony eBook Reader Resources:

In case I sold you on the reader, or have gotten you a bit more interested in it, here is some more information you can check out.

And for the cigar enthusiasts, I did a quick search for cigars on the eBook store and they do have the Idiots Guide to Cigars and a book about Ulysses S. Grant called Cigars, Whiskey & Winning. Not the best selection, I know, but it beats the heck out of the borders down the street (which has none).

UPDATE: I did some poking around, and I did find a bit more information that will be useful to Sony Reader users, or people thinking about buying one. The MobileRead Wiki entry for the Sony Reader is jam-packed with great information, including some useful stats on the proper size of a reader-friendly PDF. As well as a guide to creating PDFs from Sony. Check ‘em out!

UPDATE 2: I found another option for people needing to convert unusable PDFs to something Reader-friendly. The MobileRead wiki also has a page dedicated to eBook conversion. On it there’s a utility that specializes in converting PDFs to other formats, including text and word documents (which you can then convert to RTF). It’s not free, and I’ve never tried it, but it something to consider trying if you have a lot of PDFs you want to read.

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The Only Weather Gadget You’ll Ever Need

Brookstone Wireless 5-Day Weather StationEver since I first saw it, I knew I had to have it. But before I get into the details, some quick background. For nearly 4 years I’d been using a cheap gadget I bought at Walmart to keep track of the weather indoors and outdoors. The base unit had a digital readout the communicated with a chunky brick (with a small flashing red light) that you had to put somewhere outside. For a while, it was great. I had the current temperature inside and out. But then I moved into a condo without a balcony.

While I was working out a way to hang the chunky wireless brick outside without sending it crashing into the people on the sidewalk below, the said chunky brick decided it was tired of talking.

I considered going without, but I forgot how fickle the weather in Atlanta can be. I found myself outside without a coat during a cold snap, or wearing a heavy jacket on the recent freak 75 degree winter days. I kept forgetting to go online to check the weather before hand. So I was in the market for a new unit. And then I saw this “5-day wireless weather watcher” (seriously, that’s its name) and it blew my mind.

As its overly verbose name implies, it gives you a full 5 day forcast, complete with high and low temperatures, and a cool little icon to clue you in on the expected conditions (sunny, partially cloudy, snow, rain, etc.). The current day’s information is prominently displayed and you get the supremely handy current weather reading in your area. And did I mention, no chunky brick to hang precariously outside?

How is this possible you ask? Like the cool clocks you see these days that automagically set themselves, this little 4 inch by 4 inch unit uses radio it receives from AccuWeather to set itself appropriately for your region! Don’t believe me? Take a closer look at the picture. See “BOS” under the current weather reading? That means this unit was photographed somewhere in Boston (BOS is the airport code for Boston Logan Airport). I see “ATL” on mine. (Apparently it uses airport codes, which makes me wonder how well it works away from major airports.)

Ok, so now you’re wondering how much the subscription is for the service. It’s free. That clinched it for me. The only reason I didn’t buy it on the spot was because I knew I was traveling soon to a sales tax-free state. And while it isn’t the most expensive weather gizmo I’ve seen, $85 does generate a fair amount of sales tax.

I keep trying to come up with some negatives about the unit and all the things I come up with are really not that bad. It is $85, which is a good chunk of change, but I’ve seen others that are spendier. It doesn’t tell you the day of the month, or the month for that matter, but I rarely used the old unit for that. Unless this thing abruptly dies in the next week or so, I’d say it was an awesome buy.

UPDATE: I still think this is a great gadget, but I’ve noticed it’s gotten mixed reviews online, specifically regarding its accuracy. This morning I noticed what seemed to be an inaccuracy: I saw thunderstorms, and while it was overcast and with a bit of precipitation, there were no such storms. However, checking the weather map this evening, there do appear to be some small storms rolling in. I think what’s happening here is that you get an icon for the day, the same way you get a high and a low temperature. The icon doesn’t change to reflect the minute-by-minute current conditions the way the current temperature does, it’s intended to be an indicator of the weather prediction for the entire day. Which means that if it was going to be sunny all morning and tornadoes all afternoon and clear the rest of the evening, you’d probably see a tornado icon (if it has one). And as it happens, weather predictions are often wrong. Today, it appears the forecast was right on.

If this sounds as cool to you as it does to me, you can pick it up online here.

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The Nintendo Wii: Your Next Exercise Machine?

I was intrigued by the Nintendo Wii when I first heard about it. It sounded like a game system concept with huge potential. (For those that don’t already know, it uses motion and/or light sensors in special controllers to allow you play games with a more realistic range of physical motion.) Though I wasn’t in the market for a new game system at the time, I really hoped it be successful. I could see myself eventually buying one once the price dropped.

A short time later, I ready Scott Hanselman’s post on getting a Wii for his birthday. Between this comments on the system and the video of his wife playing it, I was sold. (Seriously, watching the clip of his wife playing with a big, happy smile on her face has got the be the best Wii advertisement ever. Way better than creepy Japanese guys driving around in a Smart Car.) Ok, so now I want one. I want one enough that I started secretly (i.e. keeping my wife in the dark) scanning shelves to check on Wii prices. I didn’t have to keep my search secret for long. There were no Wiis on shelves anywhere. Nor were there any at any major online retailers. All I could find were scalpers selling their extra Wiis for $450. $450! The original price was $250, talk about a handy profit! (Even now the prices are around $390.)

Well, as if to sprinkle salt on the wound, just this evening I came across the blog for a guy who is using his Wii to lose weight! And it’s working! The latest post on his blog indicates that he’s 6 weeks along and he’s lost 16 pounds. The idea of weight loss or increased fitness had occurred to me when I first heard about the Wii, but I assumed the potential was limited. Anyway, the story is so compelling that it has driven tens of thousands of visitors to his website, has attracted media attention, and most importantly, has me writing a post about it. :)

Ah to think what could have been if I had been an early adopter… But for now it’s the waiting game (which doesn’t burn many calories), and my condo’s gym.

UPDATE: I was checking my blogs, and it looks like the story is much bigger than J.R.’s fitness plan, I hadn’t read around enough. Engadget has posts about a guy who lost 9 pounds using his Wii, and a personal trainer who uses the Wii in his fitness plans. Additionally, it looks like Nintendo may be embracing this trend, and coming out with Wii weights. It’s beginning to look like a fitness revolution! Man this just makes not having one even worse…

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