Kindle Fire and Apple Airport Extreme

I got my Kindle Fire yesterday, unboxed it, and… I was horribly disappointed. The out-of-the-box experience was awful: slow, inconsistent, stuff timing out, difficulty connecting to the network. I put it aside, because I had a busy work schedule. This morning I picked it up again. Still unusable. I checked the online help resources, FAQs… nothing.

I contemplated returning it.
Then deep in the bowels of the Kindle discussion groups I came upon this thread. So I started to play around with my wireless access point. I use an Apple Airport Extreme (APX), with an Airport Express as an extender. There are lots of devices connected to this network – at least a dozen (PCs, Macs, tablets, phones…) – and they all work flawlessly. I’d configured the APX WiFi as “Radio: Automatic”. I switched it to “Radio: 802.11a/n – 802.11b/g”. Instantly the Kindle Fire started working properly.
I still need to run a few tests to see if this change has any negative impact on the rest of my network, but right now I’m happy to have a usable Kindle Fire

File under "Bugs to be fixed before we ship…."

My ex-colleague* from Amazon.com, Jeff Barr, has a new book coming out soon on AWS and EC2 practices. Oddly enough, the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link is prominently displayed next to it. C’mon, Jeff: do you really need to be asked?


* Hmm. Perhaps that should be “colleague and former co-worker”. “Colleague” shouldn’t imply the same employer, should it? But “former co-worker” is clumsy. Neologism needed!

Technology trickle-down

Here’s my latest review from Amazon.com. While the review addresses a particular product, there’s a more general question – how quickly does technology “trickle down” – that I’d like to dig into sometime. I would be curious to track various consumer electronics features to see how long it takes for an innovation to make the transition from “expensive differentiator” to “Wal-mart standard”. Anyway, here’s my take on the “Fujifilm FinePix S1800 12.2 MP Digital Camera with 18x Wide Angle Optical Dual Image Stabilized Zoom”:

Technology trickle-down needs to be given a bit longer… [Two stars]
We take the “trickle-down” of technology for granted, and nowhere more so than in digital photography. A couple of years ago, most cameras had sensors that could register 3-4 megapixels and “optical zoom” of 3x. Indeed zoom was so pitiful that camera incorporated the widely ridiculed “digital zoom” which traded image quality for zoom. Things like 10MP sensors and zooms of greater than 12x were the province of the semi-pro and DSLR crowd, and commanded commensurate prices. Today, every camera can handle more pixels than we know what to do with, and even shirt-pocket sub-compacts can do impressive optical zooms using bizarre optical plumbing.
I used to have a rule: buy the best digital camera I could get for $250. Every 18 months I would get a new device which absolutely knocked the socks off its predecessor. Technology trickle down.
But how fast does stuff trickle down? And what happens if a manufacturer gets it wrong?
Coincidentally, I got hold of the subject of this review, the Fujifilm S1800, just a few days after I’d bought myself a Nikon Coolpix P90. On paper, they look fairly comparable. The S1800 is 12MP, with 18x zoom; the P90 is 12.1MP with 24x zoom. (But how often will I care about the difference between 18x and 24x?) Both have image stabilization (essential at high zoom, unless you carry around a tripod), and loads of fancy features which take forever to learn. The biggest difference is the price: the P90 cost me just under $400, while the S1800 is $204 – almost half the price. Clearly the S1800 is a great demonstration of technology trickle-down: features which used to be expensive are now available at a more modest price.
Well, maybe not. My partner and I tried the S1800 in various settings – portraits, landscapes, action shots, bird-watching, macro – and neither of us was impressed. The autofocus light is extraordinarily bright: portrait subjects were literally dazzled by it. Action shots and birdwatching were frustrating, because the shutter lag is so bad. Landscapes? Every shot required color rebalancing. And the slow, noisy zoom discourages the use of the available 18x magnification.
You can see a couple of comparative shots at my MobileMe gallery – go to gallery.me.com/geoffarnold#100132

The S1800 certainly includes a number of interesting features, and I’d encourage you to see if any of them address your personal photography needs. It offers HD video, but frankly if I want video recording I’m going to use a dedicated camcorder like my trusty JVC Everio GZ-HM200. But at the end of the day, I felt that the FinePix S1800 wasn’t ready for prime time – that the relevant technologies had not yet “trickled down” to the point where they were really usable. The worst offender is the shutter lag, which is probably symptomatic of a range of small design choices and technology selections.
I’m sticking with my P90.

Paperwork

Today is a day for the making of lists. For checking lists. For arranging to get hold of hard copies of all the documents that I used to keep in electronic form on my work-supplied laptop.
Here’s a useful hint: save PDF copies of all of the output from your company’s on-line self-service tools – payroll, benefits, stocks, etc. – and email them to your home system. I was pretty careful about this, but not as scrupulous as I should have been. Mea culpa. Never mind.
A head-scratching item. I’m a book lender – I always have been. And I don’t bother to keep any records of what I’ve lent to whom; someone comes by my office with a question, and I grab the right book from my shelf and say, “Read this – let me have it back when you’re done.” Sometimes they do, but people are forgetful. And there’s no real rush, is there? So when my office is cleaned out, and my books are brought down the hill to me, I know that there will be half a dozen missing. Oh, well.
And now I must run off to have coffee with a colleague. A lot of people want to talk….

Decisions, decisions

Well, 24 hours after my unexpected departure from Amazon, things are looking pretty good. I’ve been talking (generic term for communications via telephone, email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, and old-fashioned face-to-face speech) with many people, and there are a number of interesting prospects on the horizon. I’m still trying to decide what I want to do and when I want to do it. Should I plunge straight in, or take a break and then hope that the opportunities will still be there? Take a vacation? (I can’t remember the last one.) Full-time or consulting? Write a book? Stay in Seattle, or move?
(I’m irresistibly reminded of the lyrics from the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls”:

Too many shadows, whispering voices
Faces on posters, too many choices
If, when, why, what, how much have you got
Have you got it do you get it
If so how often
Which do you choose
A hard or soft option
(How much do you need)

Too many choices. I hope that’s not an illusion….)
Never mind; there’s no rush. In the meantime, thanks to all who have wished me well, requested my résumé (an interim version of which is here), and asked to stay in contact. If you’re in Seattle, drop me a line and we’ll have coffee. (I tend to hang out at the Starbucks by Union Station; they know exactly how I like my quad espresso macchiato with extra non-fat foam.)

Well, that was unexpected

I’m leaving Amazon.com, effective today. One more statistic of this economy…. Anyway, if anyone’s interested in hiring or consulting with someone who’s been thinking about how to put “tier 1” services in the cloud, drop me a line. I understand that it’s a rather hot topic.

First Kindle 2, now Kindle on my iPhone

I’ve been enjoying my new Kindle 2. Several people have asked for my opinion of it, and have wondered when I was going to post a review. Instead of rushing to press, I’ve been taking the time to appreciate the difference between the original and the new model; I wanted to finish a complete book before committing myself. I’m in the middle of Jenet Conant’s wonderful The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington; I started reading it on my original Kindle, a couple of days before the new one arrived. Exactly as advertised, when I opened up my Kindle 2 and selected “The Irregulars”, it opened up just where I’d left off. Very nice!
So for the last few days I’ve been enjoying my new Kindle as well as a delightful book. And then, a few minutes ago, I was scanning my blog feeds and came across a piece by Marc Hedlund on the new Kindle app for the iPhone. I knew that it was in the works, but I had no idea when it was being released. (Our internal “need to know” is pretty good at Amazon.) So I fired up iTunes, found the app, downloaded it, sync’d my iPhone, ran the app, signed in, and picked “The Irregulars” from the Archived items list. A few seconds later I was reading the book, exactly where I’d left off earlier today.
Page turning is achieved with the kind of sideways sweeping gesture that is completely familiar and natural on the iPhone. It’s fairly easy to do this one-handed, using either hand. The default font was a bit too large for my taste, making each “page” uncomfortably short, but switching to the smallest font resulted in a beautifully crisp display. Just out of curiosity, I logged in to the “Manage your Kindle” page on the Amazon website, and it showed Geoff Arnold’s iPhone as a managed device.
So now I have another kind of Kindle to review….
UPDATE: Glenn Fleishman has some interesting comments over at TidBITS.

Kindle 2

Amazon has just announced the long-awaited Kindle 2, and the first thing I did this morning was to order one:

I’m particularly looking forward to the “text to speech” capability. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother is blind, and she really misses being able to read as much as she used to. (Yes, I know that the Audible.com, RNIB and other agencies are helpful, but the majority of important books never make it to audio.) So I’m hoping that the text-to-speech on the Kindle 2 will be usable by an unsighted person. ((If not, I’ll have to bug the developers for an SDK….)) If all goes well, I’ll load up a Kindle 2 with books ((Things like recent history, nuclear proliferation, politics, and disarmament.)) and take it over to Oxford.
Meanwhile, I’m going to have to wait another 18 days to receive mine. “Thinner than an iPhone.” Be still, my beating heart. Tick, tick, tick…
UPDATE: Check out this piece by Andrew Sullivan, quoting John Siracusa at Ars Technica. Money quote:

Take all of your arguments against the inevitability of e-books and substitute the word “horse” for “book” and the word “car” for “e-book.” Here are a few examples to whet your appetite for the (really) inevitable debate in the discussion section at the end of this article.
“Books will never go away.” True! Horses have not gone away either.
“Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome.” True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don’t go everywhere, nor should they.
“Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can’t match.” True! Cars just can’t match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn’t. I’m sure plenty of people swore they would never ride in or operate a “horseless carriage”—and they never did! And then they died.

A year with the Kindle

Last November, I became one of the first people to acquire an Amazon Kindle ebook reader. A year later, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on a year of living with the device. I’m doing this purely on my own behalf; even though I work for Amazon, I don’t need to pump up demand for the Kindle. Oprah has done this very nicely; indeed, she was so effective that the Kindle is sold out until next year.
So what’s it been like? I’ve used it more than I expected, but less than I wanted to, and the experience has been mostly great, with a few niggling defects. I haven’t used it as consistently as I expected, in part because of my involvement in the Vine program. (If only Vine would deliver content on the Kindle – hint!) And I’ve still bought plenty of paper books, because although Amazon has managed to get over 200,000 titles on the Kindle, there are still plenty of publishers who aren’t on board.
What do I have on my Kindle? Let’s take a look. In the order that I purchased them, I have:
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.
Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes.
Takeover by Charlie Savage.
The Complete Poems of John Milton by John Milton.
Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method by Penelope Maddy.
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran.
The Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson.
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi.
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson.
Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy by Douglas A. Anderson.
The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby.
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (six volumes) by Edward Gibbon.
Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.
Chess Strategy by Edward Lasker.
The Necessity of Atheism by David Marshall Brooks.
Red Moon by David S. Michaels & Daniel Brenton.
Spirit House by Christopher G. Moore.
The Dark Side by Jane Mayer.
Illegal Action by Stella Rimington.
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi.
Sexus by Henry Miller.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson.
The Iron Heel by Jack London.
The World Is Curved by David Smick.
What On Earth Have I Done? by Robert Fulghum.
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum.
Nation by Terry Pratchett.
Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham.
At one point I subscribed to the The New York Times, but I found the content quite inconsistent. I now have two subscriptions on my Kindle:
The Independent, which I use to keep up with British news and politics
This blog(!), which I set up to check out the blog publication system.
The Kindle book of the year was clearly Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Like Alan Jacobs, I found that the Kindle was the perfect way to become absorbed in the story without being distracted by Stephenson’s neologisms and asides. The most expensive item was Penelope Maddy’s philosophy text, which was $63.50. (It’s since come down to $40.) The cheapest? Well, there’s a “long tail” in the Kindle catalog: it’s amusing to search for books sorted by “Price: Low to high”. (Caveat emptor: some deals are too good to be true.)
Things I haven’t tried yet: having the MP3 player supply me with music while I’m reading, and using the Kindle as an Audible.com audiobook player.
Weaknesses? Just a few. Occasionally I will go for several days without reading the Kindle, and when I return to it I find that I need to individually delete back issues of my subscription content. It would be nice to be able to configure an expiration date for ephemeral items. And I’d like to be able to compose book reviews, using text clippings as part of the review. The lack of built-in lighting was occasionally inconvenient (when I’m on a plane where everyone else is asleep, I feel guilty about turning on my overhead light), but I’ve recently solved this with a replacement case for the Kindle from Periscope It has a built in LED lamp, as well as a notepad, and it works pretty well. (It would be nice if the light was dimmable, but never mind.)
The bottom line: I love it. For frequent travellers, it’s an absolute “must have”. During the next year, I’m going to add a few more “dipping into” books; poetry, short stories, etc.