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Topics - Mike D. aka jmiked

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The Book Corner / Books in public domain
« on: August 10, 2019, 09:25:47 am »

The New York Public Library says as many as 80% of all books published between 1924 and 1964 are in the public domain, if this article is to be believed.

Anything Else Amazon / Moving away from Alexa
« on: April 25, 2019, 06:43:25 pm »
I am slowly moving away from using Alexa at my house. I have three Echoes in various rooms, and Iím not doing anything with them but I could not ultimately do via Siri, and do more securely. I am becoming increasingly disturbed by the revelations concerning Amazon employees having access to voice recordings from Alexa.  Same for Google Home, I gave up on them a while ago. I donít have a Google Home and I have removed all Google apps/data from my computer and from my mobile.

If it turns out Apple is doing the same thing, then Iím sunk. ???

The Book Corner / Nero Wolfe book updates
« on: October 29, 2018, 03:35:17 pm »

 I was running a check in Manage Your Content to see how many Nero Wolfe books I have not yet gotten ebook copies of. I discovered there are 12 Wolfe books I have already bought that had updates.

Just FYI. There doesnít seem to be a way to pull up a list of books that have been updated. Too bad. And they donít tell you what is changed. I guess I will have to set aside some time to scroll through 11 years worth of book purchases.

The Book Corner / Another new to me mystery series
« on: October 20, 2018, 09:00:55 pm »
I have found another new mystery series that I have really liked. They are written by John Gaspard and itís a five-book series about Eli Marks, a magician who does not seem to get employment very often. He works in his uncleís magic shop. His ex-wife is a district attorney and her new husband is a police detective. The first book is $1.99.  The prices of the rest in the series seem to be assigned at random between $2.99 and $9.99.

Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod...) / Apple Watch
« on: June 20, 2018, 01:52:45 pm »

 I got tipped over the edge two weeks ago when I watched the Apple iOS announcements at WWDC, and bought an Apple Watch. I have been thinking about it for the last year or so, but never found the killer app. The announcements of the improvements to Siri in iOS 12 convinced me.

Other than for future Siri, I finally caved and bought one basically for two reasons: 1) it was something I could wear all the time and call for help if I needed it (I am in my mid-70s and live alone), and 2) as a health monitor.

In regards the the health monitoring functions, I read the Apple User Guide section on the Activity function twice and still didnít quite understand some of the details of how that feature worked. It took about a week and a half to finally get it figured out. I am still a bit puzzled by the fact that I can do a casual Outdoor or Indoor Walking Workout, and it does not count as Exercise (but shows up as a workout). I surmise that the difference is triggered by the heart rate monitor at some point: too low a heart rate and it's not a workout (sounds reasonable when I think about it). I use both a stationary bicycle and a treadmill for my indoor exercises.

I have already seen some benefit in having it remind me of daily goalsÖ It seems to be helping me get around a bit better with my dodgy knees after only a week and a half.

The screen is a bit small for reading books, however.  ;D

Not Quite Kindle / Interesting game
« on: May 20, 2018, 02:40:44 pm »
One of the few games I have on my phone/tablet is GeoGuessr. It is an app that lets you specify a city, country, or the world, and it will go to a random location within that selection and you have to find out where you are using Google Street View. Google Street View is the function of Google Maps where is there is a car wandering the streets taking photographs of everything. The more accurately you can pinpoint the location, the more points you get. It can take quite a while.

Once I have been dropped in northern Portugal, and once in central Croatia. The Portugal location was in a small village and I finally identified it by the sign above a business. In Croatia, I actually landed not too far from a city limits sign of another small village, but there were two places in Croatia with the same name, which was a bit confusing at first.

The Book Corner / I've discovered a new mystery series!
« on: May 13, 2018, 07:45:50 pm »
Iíve discovered a mystery series that somehow escaped me over the years: The C. D. Sloan mysteries, by Catherine Aird.  These are the stories of Detective Inspector Sloan, a policeman in rural England. There are now 24 in the series, published between 1966 and 2016.  The publisher regularly runs sales on the volumes in this series, Iíve picked up 14 of them for $1.99 each (courtesy of Open Road Mediaís Early Bird book notifications).  Iíve seen these books on the shelves at the bookstore for several decades, but never thought to try one.

 The books would fall somewhere between cozies and police procedurals, and are very witty and literate. They remind me a lot of the works of MC Beaton and Martha Grimes. I am still in the early books, and so far they are all in the 1950s time frame.  Which is fine with me. DI Sloan is not one of these newfangled detectives that has to be an alcoholic, have psychological problems, or talks to ghosts. Heís just an ordinary, albeit smart copper.  He does get saddled with a slightly dim detective sergeant who drives like a crazy person. And Sloane is happily married.

 I am very glad I discovered these, it gives me a nice warm feeling to know that I have almost an entire series of new-to-me books to look forward to.

Edit:  I see the problem with question marks instead of apostrophes in the final posted message is still not resolved.

Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / Walmart to sell Kobos
« on: January 26, 2018, 08:31:10 pm »
The tech news site Engadget has announced that later this year, Walmart will begin selling Kobo readers and Kobo ebooks. This is a great thing for people that don't, for whatever reason, want to buy a Kindle. It sounds as if the want to make the whole system easier to use and better integrated. I'm all for it, I like Kobo ereaders, they are much more customizable than Amazon has been willing to let the Kindles be. And they can get the time from the internet via WiFi, which Amazon refuses to let you do.

I might even consider upgrading my 5-year old Kobo Glo.

Anything Else Amazon / Echo plus ads
« on: January 03, 2018, 07:43:01 pm »
From yesterday's Gizmodo:

"CNBC reports that Amazon is in discussions with huge companies that want to promote their goods on Echo devices. Proctor & Gamble as well as Clorox are reportedly in talks for major advertising deals that would allow Alexa to suggest products for you to buy. CNBC uses the example of asking Alexa how to remove a stain, with Alexa in turn recommending a Clorox product. "

I can't speak for anybody else, but the first time this happens to me all my Echo devices are getting disconnected and will likely end up in the garbage bin.

The Book Corner / Sue Grafton R.I.P.
« on: December 29, 2017, 02:37:14 pm »
Sue's daughter Jamie is reporting within the last few hours that her mother has passed away at the age of 77 after battling cancer cancer for several years.

 I'm going to miss her work. She's one of the very few authors that I used to buy the hardcover when it first hit the shelf.  :'(

The Book Corner / Bill Crider sad news
« on: December 07, 2017, 07:39:58 pm »
I saw last night that my favorite contemporary mystery writer Bill Crider has posted a farewell message on his blog and on Facebook. He's been battling cancer for a while and his doctors have advised him to enter a hospice, as they say he has only a short time left.

I know he has been mentioned several times here on the KB. Bill is the author of a 80 or so books in several genres: mystery, western, horror, and YA. We never met in person, but I've corresponded with him via email, have been a Facebook buddy and followed his very entertaining blog for a number of years. He has also been a book reviewer for some years with Mystery Scene magazine.

I just finished a re-read of his Sheriff Dan Rhodes books last month (all 24 of them). These are some of my favorite books.

It doesn't look good for him, but sometimes miraculous things happen.

The Book Corner / The Count of Monte Cristo
« on: November 11, 2017, 08:10:52 pm »
I just finished watching the 2002 movie version of "The Count of Monte Cristo", which starred Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest). I've seen this version before, but had forgotten what a train wreck it is insofar as the plot lines of the book are concerned. It's a handsomely-mounted production, but a 130-minute movie can't do justice to the novel, which ran to 1300+ pages. Caviezel isn't an actor with much animation, but he was OK in the role. The unlikely casting of Gerard Depardieu in a French TV version that ran 6+ hours or so was more successful at presenting the actual story, I thought.

Now, onto the book topic: I thought I knew the story until I stumbled across an article concerning a new translation of the work. It alleged (IIRC) that all the current English translations were based on a highly-abridged translation done in the 1800s by someone who didn't really speak French all that well. He chopped out almost two-thirds of the novel, and censored some parts of it (that got your attention, didn't it?). The new translation also somewhat modernizes the language instead of the instead of shoehorning the English words into what someone thought was period-French language usage.

All in all, it's a very entertaining work (albeit long), but I can say that if you have only read earlier translations, then you don't really know the story. Certainly the movies won't give you most of the story. And I think all the movies have changed the ending, missing the point of the work.

Fire Talk / Security updates
« on: October 23, 2017, 09:06:49 pm »
Does anybody know if Amazon ever pushes security updates to the Fires?

Anything Else Amazon / Echo remote
« on: October 16, 2017, 08:39:57 am »
I've just had my second Echo Remote fail yesterday. It lasted a year and a week. I'm more than a bit annoyed. I have to use the thing frequently, since neither the Echo or the Dot are that good at rejecting even low-level ambient noise from TVs and such.

Pfui (as a famous detective would say).

Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod...) / New iPhones coming
« on: August 29, 2017, 09:07:39 am »
Apple's new phones are scheduled to be announced on 12 Sep. Anybody thinking about getting a new phone? It looks as thought the new flagship iPhone is going to be priced over $1000, so that's clearly out for me.

The rest of the line (rumored to be called the 7s and 7s Plus) will likely be around $800-$900.This is still pretty steep, but the Samsung and Google phones cost that also.

I'm thinking to get the previous model when the price drops in two months or so to replace my three-year old phone. An iPhone 7 Plus will do me fine. It would have four things I would like to have: slightly larger keyboard for my clumsy old fingers, enough memory to get all my music on, better camera, and better battery life on a charge.

I really like the Motorola G5 phones (at $300 or so), but the thing that keeps me from getting one is that the ones they sell here in the US don't have NFC (Near Field Communications), which means I couldn't use my phone to pay for things at stores. I've gotten accustomed to zipping through checkout lines with a button tap to pay from a debit card, not to mention the massive security improvement over plastic cards.

Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod...) / Cases are worth it
« on: August 12, 2017, 09:49:14 pm »
Maybe it's because I'm sometimes very clumsy, but I've always put protective cases of some sort on my cell phones. I don't understand those people who walk around with naked phones.

Tonight I dropped my iPhone two feet onto a tiled floor, and it survived without a scratch. The case has a large crack in the hard shell, and is a total loss since it won't fit together any more, which is a shame because it has an auxiliary battery in it. I could get through a day of heavy use with the extra power. Now I'm back using my OtterBox, as I will probably get a new phone in the next two months and there's no point in spending money for a new battery case right now.

I recommend cases.

Anything Else Amazon / Engadget report on Alexa
« on: July 12, 2017, 09:14:30 pm »

Engadget is today reporting that Amazon is considering giving Alexa developers access to private transcript data of what you say to your Alexa devices.


It is reported that Kobo has been hit by ransomware and their order/shipping facilities are down. No word on when they might be back.

You may be able to buy them elsewhere, though.

Not Quite Kindle / The world's toughest bike race
« on: June 12, 2017, 07:45:48 pm »
It's not the Tour de France.

This week I've been watching internet coverage of the 2017 Tour Divide, a bicycle race that goes from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells (on the border of New Mexico/Mexico). It's 2745 miles of unmarked trails/footpaths/fire-roads/gravel roads, fording streams, pushing bikes through two feet of snow, etc., that follows the Continental Divide as closely as possible. It's self supported, which means that you have to take everything you'll need (no meeting up with people for re-supplies) and you have to pay for everything and are responsible for getting to the start line. And then getting home from the finish.

No prize money. But occasionally you get confronted by grizzly bears. Really. Take bear spray. You are only monitored by GPS, there are no officials to oversee things. You may go days without seeing another rider, and there are places where you are 200 miles from the nearest services. If you have a flat or mechanical difficulties, you may be in a spot of trouble. It's not against what few rules there are for another rider to come along and help you, but some riders stick to the spirit of the race and won't accept help. Bike shops lay on extra help and work extended hours at the small towns along the way. And you should be prepared to sleep beside the trail if need be. Total vertical distance climbed is 190,000 feet.

If you really need help, there's an SOS button on the GSP SPOT tracker labeled "SOS". As one rider put it: "See that button? It gets you a $25,000 medevac helicopter ride.". Once in a while you do get cell phone coverage, though.

This year there are 190 people entered, 170 men and 20 women. A significant number between 40 and 60 years of age. I believe that the oldest person to have entered was 73. This year, an ex-governor of New Mexico is entered. He's 64. The top riders get along with 4-6 hours of sleep a day.

Last year's winner made the trip in 13 days and 23 hours. That's about 196 miles a day, with an average of almost 14,000 vertical feet involved daily. Highest peak is 12,000 feet.

There is a real-time internet map where I am following the positions and stats of all the riders, as well as a forum where pictures are posted by a number of residents along the way. The event is very popular along the route.

It started at 9AM last Friday, which means that the front-runners should show up at Antelope Wells around the 24th/25th. Although the winner could show up at the start line about then, as it's permissible to run the race from south to north, but most prefer the north to south route.

My hat is off to those riders. It's a brutal race.

As rumored, Apple unveiled an Echo competitor at their World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC). I watched it live via streaming on Monday.

It's called the HomePod, and looks similar to a small barrel cactus. The big feature that all their attention was on the high-quality sound the device will produce. I'll concede that the sound may be order of magnitude better than the Echo or Google Home units, as those aren't anything to get excited about sound-wise. Very little time was given to the Siri aspect of the HomePod, almost as if it were an after-thought.

Possibly they were not emphasizing it because up until now, Siri has been trailing the pack when it comes to voice interaction. I would think that if they had made big strides toward improving Siri, they would make it a big deal, instead of virtually ignoring it.

It does have some nice features, such as adjusting sound output to the room configuration, just as my Yamaha AV receiver does (which cost about as much as the HomePod will). It has multiple microphones just as the Echo and Google Home do. It seems to have the CPU of a two-year old iPhone controlling it (this is actually very powerful). If you have two of them in the same room, they will sync together. Presumably for stereo sound.

And only $350. What a deal.

They also announce a number of other hardware products: Updated laptops, updated desktops, major improvements to the iPad Pro hardware/software, and a killer iMac Pro that starts at $5,000 and can be ordered with an 18-core Xenon processor, and 128 Gb of RAM (with a really crappy keyboard).

No mention of the Mac Mini (which I was considering upgrading), or the iPad Mini. Or the Airport Extreme WiFi router. Or the iPod Touch.

Phones get announced in September, as always.

The iWatch software has been improved a lot, but I confess to not having paid attention to that part.

Also announced was that anything earlier than the iPhone 6 will not be able to run iOS 11. I pretty much expected this. I have an iPhone 6, and I plan on upgrading to a 7 Plus in October or so, when the prices drop.

Anything Else Amazon / Chrome browser problems
« on: May 27, 2017, 12:04:03 pm »
I'm trying out (for the umpteenth time) the Chrome browser, and ran into a problem: It won't display any books in the "My Content" screen. It will show all in the devices and settings tabs, but no titles in the My Content window. All other content from this and other sites displays correctly.
Any thoughts?
FWIW, I'm using an older version of Chrome (49) on an older laptop Mac. Newer versions of Chrome won't install on my machine.

Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod...) / iOS 10.3 update
« on: April 05, 2017, 01:14:47 pm »
I was going to wait quite a while before installing the latest update to iOS, but I only waited a few days. The tech sites I trust reported no problems, so I downloaded and installed it, mostly for the security updates.

The update also contains a conversion to a new file system (the first in several decades for Apple), so it take a bit longer for the installation process than is usual. The new system includes optimization for solid-state drives, something that didn't exist when the previous file system was created. Two things I noticed right away: there seems to be a bit more free space available, and some programs load more quickly. Neither of these is a huge difference, and I have no numbers to back up the impression.

No changes to any of Apple's apps that I could see. I keep hoping for improvements to Apple's ereader app for no other reason than competition (since I don't use it), but no such luck. It still has just about as few actual reading features as Amazon's app.

There is one new feature of the Settings menu, though. You can now get a list of the apps that are going to be deprecated from iOS 11, which will coming probably later this year. These affected older 32-bit apps will not work in iOS 11, and will disappear from the app store. It will only support 64-bit apps. You may have seen the "This app may slow your system down and won't work in a future update to iOS" message. This is what that means.

I have 37 (out of 200 or so on my iPhone) apps that will not work on the "future update". Only two really concern me: Bento (the excellent database I've been using for years to keep track of my books), and Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (which was killed off several years ago after Maltin became dissatisfied with the developer's update performance). I've found a barely adequate replacement for the database, but nothing for the movie guide. Neither of these apps were ever available for Android, unfortunately. Nor were satisfactory alternatives.

In summary, I can report that the update went well for me, and it added several useful features.


I just discovered this last weekend how to fix the Kobo software problem with line spacing on ePubs (thanks to help from Mobileread forums). So I'm back to using the Kobo Glo in addition to my Kindle Voyage. The Glo (it's an old one) is noticeably slower on page turns than the Voyage, but I can live with that.

The software on the Kobo won't win any awards, but it has a lot more formatting features than the Voyage does.

Edit: The line spacing problem referred to is that side-loaded ePubs could not have the line spacing adjusted, and led to many, many books having double- and triple-spaced lines, or lines that nearly touched. Hard to read that way.


The Book Corner / Authors disappeared from Follow list
« on: March 17, 2017, 05:11:48 pm »
I found out by accident today that most of the 20+ authors I'm following in the Kindle store had reverted to a not following status. I don't know when this happened, but I had to re-follow the ones I could remember.

I realized that I had not seen any updates when I knew some new titles had been published, now I know why. To be on the safe side, I'd recommend people do a spot check to see if this has happened to anyone else.


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