Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

books and ebooks

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Geeky Mom is considering an e-reader, which inspired me to update my Kindle review now that I’ve been using it for 7 months.

  • I’m still doing a lot of work reading on it, and I’ve mostly stopped converting pdfs to Kindle format.  My eyesight is good enough to read the tiny print, although with effort, and it’s worth it not to have the footnote showing up in the middle of a sentence and the tables totally scrambled.
  • I love it for the metro and for traveling light.   The ability to be stuck on the tarmac and buy the next book on your to-do list is definitely worth it.  (As far as I see, this is the only downside of the wifi only version of the Kindle.  I wonder when someone will figure out a way to let you download books onto the kindle using a cell phone.)
  • Most of the books I read are still print, because most of the books I read come from the library.
  • Kindle editions of new hardcovers are a lot cheaper than list price, but typically only a few bucks more than Amazon sells them for.  I think I want to to take Tana French’s new book, Faithful Place, with me on vacation, but am leaning towards buying it in print so I can pass it on to my mother.
  • As I read more fiction on the Kindle, I’m surprised at how annoying I find it not to be able to easily flip back to the previous chapter to remind myself of who a character is.  Ebooks are more like scrolls than books — and there’s a reason no one reads scrolls anymore.


Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Via Laura at Apt 11d, I read Henry Farrell’s post on why he’s leaving Facebook.  Of the various things I’ve read lately about Facebook, it comes the closest to capturing my reasons for being unhappy with FB.  I’m not a privacy purist –for one thing, I’m well aware that the corporate databases have far more info about me than I’ve ever posted online.  I’m willing to give up some privacy about my shopping for a few bucks off of groceries (e.g. store loyalty cards), and the ability to stay in loose connection with friends and relatives is worth more to me than a few dollars.  I don’t post anything that I’d be horrified to read repeated in a public forum.  And I’ve never been unhappy with the ads that google shows alongside my gmail account (although I’m not sure I’ve ever clicked through either).

But a couple of weeks ago, a colleague reported to me that Xobni is showing her my facebook profile picture when she gets a work email from me.  Even though 1) my privacy settings on Facebook say it should only be available to friends of friends; 2) I haven’t friended any of my colleagues (I’m happy to connect on LinkedIn); and 3) I don’t have my work email connected to my Facebook account.

So, this pisses me off on general principles (because it appears that Xobni is not honoring the FB privacy settings and each company seems to think it’s the other’s fault).  And also because even though my profile pic is totally innocuous, it’s not “professional” — I’m in casual clothes, and laughing.   If I wanted to associate a picture with my work email (and I don’t), it would be the boring one of me in a suit that’s on my organization’s website.  I reject Zuckerberg’s idea that having different images for work and for personal life is out of date.  I like reading Penelope Trunk, but dear god, I don’t want to be her.

the budget and new media

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I spent most of today immersed in the details of the federal budget.  (And as far as I can tell, no one has posted it in ereader format yet.  On the other hand, NASA is starting to post its histories as ebooks.)  I’ll post about substance later in the week, but for now I want to comment about the differences between the Health and Human Services (HHS) and Labor presentations.

HHS basically took an old media approach.  There was a press conference.  Anyone who wasn’t credentialed press could watch in a different room, over a closed-circuit TV, or via webcast, or could listen in on a phone line, but could not ask questions.  HHS has posted the transcript of Sebelius’ prepared remarks, but not of the Q and A session, and if there’s archived video of the conference, I couldn’t find it.

Labor did a live webchat, which is archived on the site. Anyone — press or otherwise — could submit a question, via the chat window, email, phone, or twitter.  And it’s clear, from the questions, that some were submitted by press, some by advocates, some by people running programs, and some by the general public.  I don’t know who Solis had in the room with her, but it seemed to me that the answers were much more substantive than in the HHS Q and A session.

I’d love to know who makes the decisions about how to run these events.

kindle review

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month, so here are some initial reactions.

  • The screen really is very comfortable to read, far more so than a computer screen for extended periods. It’s not great in dim light, such as some of the metro platforms — enough so that I bought a reading light that fits in the case with it.
  • It’s a great one-handed reading experience — far better than a book or newspaper for standing on the metro reading with one hand and holding onto the pole with the other.  I think Apple is just wrong is saying that buttons are bad.  (It doesn’t solve the problem of what to do when the train is so packed that there’s no room to read anything — podcasts are still the best solution for that.)
  • I still have a pile of unread books (the pulp and ink kind) next to my bed.
  • I’ve only bought a few books for it so far — but there are plenty of public domain books available through Feedbooks.  While the publishers think Amazon is selling books for way too little, most readers seem to think they’re charging too much for something with no physical production or distribution costs.
  • Traveling with it is terrific, as I read fast and get tired of hauling books around.  But it’s annoying to be told to turn it off for takeoff and landing.
  • I have been using it for a fair amount of work reading, rather than printing out stacks of paper to carry back and forth.  Almost always, this means sending a .pdf or .doc file to Amazon to convert.  They do a good job with text, and images come through fine, but tables are a mess.  While it can now read .pdf files directly, the text winds up very small, which I can’t tolerate for very long.    And there’s no zoom function.   When I know a document has tables that I’m going to need, I’ve been loading both the pdf and converted versions so I can flip between the two.  It’s pretty kludgy.
  • The most annoying part of using it for technical reading is that there’s no way to flip to the endnotes or references and back– I hadn’t been aware of how much I do that until I couldn’t do it.   It may be possible to do this with documents that have been “published” for the Kindle, as opposed to converted pdfs, but I don’t know of any research shop that is putting out ebook versions in addition to pdf.  (I’ll be interested in seeing tomorrow whether anyone quickly converts the budget documents into ebooks.)
  • I bought a case for it, although I’m not sure that one is really needed.

Update: The budget documents don’t appear to be posted as ebooks anywhere, but the Economic Report of the President is.  I approve.

life with my crackberry

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The New York Times had an article last year on how smartphones are becoming seen as a necessity.  Overall, it was sort of an eyeroll inducing article, and most of the commenters on the site did seem to be rolling their eyes.  But I do think it made a good point about how as a group (whether a work team or a group of friends) reaches a saturation point with the technology, it becomes harder to be the outlier.  People start to assume that you don't have comments on an email if you haven't responded in a few hours.  People get sloppy about making detailed advanced plans because they assume they'll be able to reach you by phone.

At work, they asked us sometime last fall if we wanted blackberries, and I said no thanks.  I check email from home anyway, and didn't feel like I wanted to be on constant call.  But most of my team got them, and within a few months, I went back to my boss and asked if it was too late to change my mind.  As it turns out, she had also said no previously, and was having second thoughts as well.  So we both got them.

I've had it for a couple of months now, and I'm pretty spoiled by it.  I still hardly use it as a cell phone — but the always-on connection to the internet and email is darned addictive.  Before I had it, I couldn't imagine paying for a data plan out of pocket — I was quite content with the combination of my iPod touch and a cheapo pay-by-the-minute cellphone — but now if I went to a job that didn't pay for the service, I might come up with the money to pay for it myself.  It's a perfect demonstration of the hedonic treadmill.

This week, there's been some buzz about IRS guidelines saying that personal use of a company cell phone is a taxable fringe benefit, just like use of a company car.  This is apparently something that's been the official policy for years, but essentially no one has known about it (and it's pretty small change compared to use of a car).  My understanding is that the new IRS guidelines were designed to clarify the rules and create a "safe harbor" so you didn't have to track all your use and allocate it across business vs personal, but what they actually did is draw attention to the policy.  I think that in theory, it does make sense to treat these phones as a fringe benefit, but in practice, it's way too much hassle for the amount of money that would be collected.

Family calendars, to dos

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Last week, I discovered BackpackIt, a nifty web utility that lets you share lists, files, and notes.  The lists include check-off boxes, which means that this might be a solution to the endless problem of how do two (or more) people share a to-do list.  T. and I are giving it a try, and we’ll see how it goes.  I think the free level is plenty for us, but if someone would develop a way to sync the lists with HandyShopper, I’d be willing to pay for it. 

For sharing calendars, we use the low-tech solution of a whiteboard hanging in the kitchen, which we try to update every Sunday night.  It’s not perfect — T. totally forgot about a dentist appointment a few weeks ago, in spite of the fact that it was written in clear letters — but it serves the main purpose of making sure that we don’t both plan on doing kid-free activities at the same time.

For such a basic set of issues, faced by pretty much every family, you’d think there would be a better solution.  But we haven’t found it yet.  Recommendations are welcome.