Playing with an e-reader

Nov 15, 2009 / 0 comments

I've always preferred dead tree to reading things on screen; I just find it easier. I've tried reading fiction in the past off a laptop and just didn't find it as enjoyable an experience; whether it was the form factor (hard to curl up with a laptop, even a netbook), the quality of the screen or the interface I don't know. Equally with technical documentation if it's something I'm using a lot I prefer a printed copy to flick through. However e-ink based e-readers are becoming much more common and affordable and I figured I should give the whole ebook experience another try.

I spent 3 weeks in October in the Bay Area on work, so I borrowed my Dad's Sony PR505 for the trip. First problem is that it's picky about USB charging - works fine if attached to a computer, but using a Blackberry charger looks like it's fine but then results in what looks like a hanging reader. However once charged it lasts for ages - I charged it before I went and only hooked it up to my laptop once during the trip to transfer some new content onto it. The form factor is also quite good; a bit heavier than a book, but not excessively so. Holdable in one hand, big enough screen that I wasn't squinting at it. Slightly too big physically to easily go in a coat pocket the way a paperback would unfortunately, but perfectly fine for taking to read at breakfast every morning in the hotel.

The screen was also much better than I'd expected. I knew the technology was different and supposed to be easier to read than traditional LCDs, but I was sceptical. Overall I had no problems with it. I was even quite impressed with the Sony's zoom function - one of the PDFs I was reading was too small when view full screen, so I zoomed in so it was readable. The nice feature was that then the "next page" button gave me the next bit of text to read, rather than the actual next page, so it remained very easy to navigate through as I read. A small touch, but very welcome.

This isn't intended to be a review of the Sony reader; that just happened to be the model I was easily able to borrow. I happened to see a Kindle in use on the plane and I was struck by how much bulkier it seemed, though having looked at the relative specs it seems this is entirely due to the keyboard rather than any difference in screen size. The Nook was also announced during my trip and I'd quite like a play with that as it looks quite nice.

Despite my positive experience with the Sony I'm not planning to go out and get one just yet. And that's the lack of sensibly priced content. When I bought my first mp3 player I could take my exising CD collection, rip it and be able to play it on my new device. This meant I got an immediate benefit of having my entire music collection with me all the time, just by buying the player. If I buy an e-reader then in order to get all my existing books on it I have to go and buy them again. What's worse is they'll cost me the same or more than I paid for the paperbacks. I can't go and exchange my Pratchett collection for the electronic versions for a nominal fee. I can't easily scan them in myself and produce some decent ebooks. I can't even go and buy the entire set for £20; I'd have to spend something like ten times that. With mp3s I can continue to buy the real item and also have it on my portable player. Or, while albums still don't seem to be much cheaper electronically than on CD, there is at least the ability to buy a single track if that's all I want. Books don't have a comparison. I'm not going to want to buy a single chapter, am I?

There are some sites out there that can provide cheaper ebooks - Rachel Willmer runs which lets you compare pricing from different vendors. There's also Project Gutenberg if you're looking for out of copyright books. Finally Peter Corlett pointed me at the Baen Free Library, which I haven't downloaded anything from but will definitely investigate at some point. I still maintain that none of these are enough and that content provision will continue to be a hinderance for e-reader mass adoption until there is some fundemental change in the way its provision is handled.

What to wear?

Oct 13, 2009 / 0 comments

I tend to dress quite casually - unless there's a good reason to do otherwise I'll be in jeans and a t-shirt, or something similar. I'm comfortable in it and I take the view point that in general people shouldn't be making assumptions based on what I'm wearing. Of course they do, and while this can be infuriating at times it can also be amusing. The man at the RBoS who witnessed me signing the personal DD guarantee form for Black Cat obviously couldn't reconcile my appearance with what I was there to do, for example.

I'd never thought about this from the other side until a few weeks ago. I spoke to someone who explained how difficult it had become to conduct business meetings with other companies with the increased level of business casual. In fact on occasion different branches of the same company that he'd be meeting with would have different dress codes, so he'd go to something involving casual dress in the morning and something with full business suit attire in the afternoon and end up feeling over or under dressed.

This isn't likely to make me change my own behaviour in the immediate future (I don't have to interact with external parties as part of my current job). It did help me realise that there was another explanation for awkward behaviour when I'm my usual scruffy self that wasn't just about judging on appearances though.

(All of the above blatantly obvious once you think about it, but it took that conversation for me to do so.)

Back from DebConf9

Aug 2, 2009 / 0 comments

Finally back home post DebConf9; felt reasonably productive and I have a lengthy todo list which I've even written down and started work on. More on that when any of them come to fruition.

Very much enjoying the return to easily accessible decent tea and salad/other vegetables. I haven't eaten any fish since my return and hopefully won't for at least a few days. Also I feel the need for an alcohol free week so my liver can recover. Back to work tomorrow - what is it I do again? Also, bets on how my cow orkers will react to my purple hair?

Home directory on SD card?

Jul 18, 2009 / 0 comments

I'm off to DebConf next Thursday. I'm looking forward to it; I could do with a change of scenery and some time with friends. I'm having my usual "What do I need to bring?" worries and I got to wondering about which laptop to bring - since last year I've gained an EEE 901, but I still have my Toshiba R200.

In general I'm using the EEE these days when I'm not using my desktop - it's much more convenient to throw in an overnight bag. However the keyboard and screen are too small for hard core use. Which suggests I should take the R200. Except the EEE battery life is great and a small laptop is handy for use in talks. So I think I'll bring both. Which led me to think about the fact I don't use the R200 that much these days and why that is. And it's partly about all the various bits that live in my home directory that mean switching machine is a sort of context shift. That applies to my desktops too.

And then I had a thought. Both laptops have built in SD readers. So do both of the desktops I regularly use. Why not just put my home directory on an SD card? These are machines that I don't log into remotely, so the card being removed when I'm not in front of the machine isn't a problem (it means I have to log out, but I think that's acceptable). I'm not totally sure of the speed of the readers in the various machines, but I guess the best way to find out if it's doable is to try it.

So, various things to ponder:

  • Card size. Do all my readers support SDHC? In which case I should get an 8G or 16G card. Otherwise 1G is probably the safest maximum size? I suppose I can order one of each; they'll get used somewhere even if it's not for this.
  • Card make. I don't want something that's going to die after a week of use; I'll try to ensure cache directories and similar are symlinks to a local piece of storage but I don't have a feel for the number of writes my home directory normally sees. I like Crucial for RAM. How's their flash? Integral? Or just bite the bullet and accept Sandisk are going to be best, if pricey?
  • Filesystem. ext3? Or will the journal kill the card faster - I understood this was less of a concern these days. Are ext4 or btrfs ready for this sort of use? Perhaps this is the right time to try; I can keep backups on every machine that uses the card easily enough.
  • Crypto. I may as well encrypt the card for security as I doubt that'll end up being the bottleneck for access. Is dm-crypt the right thing? libpam-mount looks like it might let me tie things together in a simplish fashion.
  • Union mount? It might be nice to have a basic home directory on every machine so I can login even if I don't have my card with me. Or have local configuration bits specific to each machine. Perhaps something for a bit further down the line - I'm not sure any of the unionfs options are in mainline kernels yet?

I suppose I'll do some card manufacturer investigation and try and get a couple of cards ordered in time to play with over DebConf.

Going to DebConf 9

Jun 22, 2009 / 0 comments


I've known I was going for a while, but only finally booked the holiday off work and had it approved last week (unfortunately they're not giving me the time for free like last year. :( ). I'll be there for DebConf proper (ie 23rd until 31st). In the unlikely event anyone else is flying DUB<>MAD my flights are:

2009-07-23 06:00 (DUB) -> 09:30 (MAD) FR 7158
2009-07-31 20:15 (MAD) -> 21:50 (DUB) EI 595

I'm on the 16:25 Talgo from Madrid and then the 09:25 back on the 31st. Looks like I'll have company from the train booking page.

Also I've been doing the first draft of the room allocation. If you're expecting to stay at DebConf organised accommodation you should check your name is on this list with the expected dates, and email if it's not.

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