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Topics - Mike D. aka jmiked

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Not Quite Kindle / The World is Not Falling Apart
« on: December 24, 2014, 10:35:03 am »
An interesting article that provides a counterpoint to the incessant stream of stories from the media about violence in the world. It might make your holidays a bit brighter. Or at least less depressing when you watch the news.

Not for people with short attention spans.  ;D


The Book Corner / Hachette price drop
« on: November 13, 2014, 08:18:04 pm »
Interesting... no sooner do I hear about the settlement on the news than I get an email telling me of a price drop from $12.99 to $7.99 on a Marcia Muller book published by Hachette earlier this year.



The Book Corner / Blue Labyrinth by Preston/Child
« on: November 12, 2014, 07:37:31 pm »
Now available for Kindle if you don't mind paying $12.99.


The Book Corner / Old SF classic by Williamson and Gunn back in print
« on: November 12, 2014, 07:27:23 pm »

Star Bridge, by Jack Williamson and James E. Gunn. Released Tuesday, it was on my eReaderIQ list for several years. First published in 1951, it is a collaboration between two of the most distinguished authors of the time. It's very much still anchored in the pulp tradition of the late forties and early fifties. A mercenary on a mission that ends up pitting him against a powerful elite that includes a beautiful woman (of course). Still, I found it to be an interesting work to read again after all these years. I still liked it, despite it being unfashionable by today's standards. Not much in the way of characterization, very plot/idea driven, a very fifties attitude toward women characters (the male characters aren't all that much better). It does, however contain two of the most memorable characters I've come across in SF: Oliver Wu and his diamond-eating one-eyed parrot named Lil. I would have liked to see more books with Wu and Lil, but none were forthcoming.

This edition contained an afterword that explains why there are two authors credited. Jack Williamson had written the first fifty or so pages and had a rough outline, then got a case of writer's block. After not making any progress for a while, he asked his friend James Gunn to take over and finish the book. After Gunn finished, Williamson revised it to be more in his voice (I guess). It still reads as more of a Gunn novel than a Williamson one, though.

This is only one of a dozen old favorites I have on my notify list. I'm glad to say that it lived up to my expectation and memories as a semi-cheesy space opera from the end of the pulp era of SF.

 Good fun. How could it not be with a diamond-eating one-eyed parrot?  Fun is something sorely lacking in just about all 'modern' SF.


Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod...) / MacBook Air experiences?
« on: November 11, 2014, 10:39:55 pm »
I have a friend that will trade me a mid-2011 MacBook Air 256Gb (11" display) for a guitar that I play about once every two years. I'm seriously thinking about it.

Anyone have any experiences to offer on the MacBook Air? It will mostly replace a 2007 MacBook that's getting a bit aged (trackpad getting flakey).


The Book Corner / A nod to Preston and Child's book series
« on: October 14, 2014, 05:46:38 pm »
This evening's NCIS has an FBI Special Agent (Leia) Pendergast as one of the main characters of this episode.  ;D

Also a reference to Star Wars. ;D ;D.

I'm looking forward to the release of the next Pendergast novel later this November.


Not Quite Kindle / Yet another reason I hate cliff-hanger season endings
« on: August 28, 2014, 02:09:21 pm »
A&E just announced that Longmire has not been renewed.  >:( >:(

And yes, it had a cliff-hanger ending.


The Book Corner / Henry Kuttner SF classic enKindled
« on: August 18, 2014, 05:53:59 pm »
I just got a notice that Robots Have No Tails by Henry Kuttner, has been published as an ebook. First published in 1951, this is a collection of five short stories about Gallegher, an eccentric inventor. A quote from a blurb:

"Gallegher was a genius. He'd start with a twist of wire and an odd notion or two, and come up with something never before known - something like a robot that thought that the most beautiful thing in the world was its own innards. Or a machine that ate dirt and sang bawdy songs. The trouble was, Gallegher's genius worked only when he was drunk. Once sober again, he could never figure out just what it was his gadgets were supposed to do; whether it was opening a can of beer - or saving the world."

Henry Kuttner (d. 1958) was a major SF writer in the forties and fifties. Ray Bradbury referred to him as a "neglected master".

A steal at $2.99.


Not Quite Kindle / Cataract surgery
« on: August 07, 2014, 04:18:39 pm »
Sigh. I couldn't put it off any longer, I'm going in for lens replacement on my right eye on the 20th. I've gotten to the point I can't read street signs until I'm right up on them, although I can see traffic well enough to avoid hitting turtles, elephants, squirrels and the like.  It's just that I can't see fine details any more. A while ago I pretty much gave up driving after sundown. My optometrist told me late last year that I would not pass the eye test for driver's license renewal (although that is not for another four years).

It's also made bicycling on dirt trails a bit dicey. It's to the point where small rocks on the path just escape notice until it's almost too late to avoid them. At 71 years of age, I don't feel like taking a tumble. I might damage my expensive cross-country bicycle.  :o ;D

The last straw was a few weeks ago when I realized that I couldn't easily read the on-screen program guide on the Direct TV service.

I'm getting the lens that corrects for astigmatism -- I hope it's worth it, as the Medicare Advantage plan I have doesn't cover anything but the basic vanilla lens so I have to pick up the balance ($$$).

At the moment, I can still read books on my ereader even without glasses as long as it's held about a foot from my eyes. I looking for an improvement there, also.

Anybody care to comment on their experiences with lens replacement?

Next up: hearing aids.  ;D


Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / Android tablet with eInk screen
« on: July 07, 2014, 11:45:37 am »
I ran across this while researching some Android ereader apps:

It appears to be a pretty nice product at a reasonable price. Some people over on the Mobileread forums have them.


Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / My first ereading device...
« on: May 27, 2014, 11:08:42 am »
... was an Apple Newton Messagepad 100. I'm pretty sure nobody that hangs out here has heard of these, but they were pretty popular for a while, and were a big hit in the medical community.

Introduced by Apple in 1993, it featured a ~5" monochrome LCD touch-screen, and was powered by four AAA batteries (or optional NiCad rechargeable battery pack). It was powered by a unique operating system (called Newton) with handwriting recognition,  and was revolutionary for the day. It had most of the standard apps we take for granted today: calendar, contact manager, voice memos, email client, notes manager, word processor, internet browser. The OS was in some ways more advanced than we  have today. One of the things I liked about it was the ability to tap on the Assist button, enter "lunch with Harold next Friday" and it would pop up a window with the list of people named Harold that were in the contacts list for you to choose from and a default lunch time of 12PM to 1PM (editable, of course) on next Friday's date, allow you to choose others from your contacts list to invite, and you could press OK, then it would put the event in your schedule. Brilliant!

You could either use the stylus or a pop-up keyboard to enter information. There was a hinged cover to protect the display on later models.

One of the things the Newton OS had that was unique was the way information was stored. It was all thrown into a "soup", as opposed to a formal filing system. All the apps had access to all the information in the system. A general search could turn up matches in notes, email, word processor, contacts, calendar.. all of the apps. You could choose to search only in categories, of course.

It went through several model changes in the next four years: the OMG (Original MessagePad), the 100, 110, 120, 130, and finally the 2000/2100 series in 1997:

This was a brilliant device. In this iteration of the series, it was powered by four AA batteries that could last two weeks under normal usage. It had gained an infrared transmitter/receiver port, a dual serial connector to which you could attach accessories, more memory, a ~6" screen that was a bit less readable than the earlier models, improved handwriting recognition, a microphone, and most importantly, two slots for PC cards to be inserted. The available cards were external memory and modem/fax/ethernet cards. Motorola sold the 2000 with a plug-in card with an antenna that allowed the use of the 2000 as a cell phone! The folding cover could be used as a stand, and there was a wiring slot hidden along the hinge area that was for future use allowing a never-produced cover with a keyboard to be used.

The 2100 was pretty much identical to the 2000 except for having more built-in memory, and a recessed area for the company logo to be glued into. The 2000/2100 was designed by Apple, but built by Sharp, who also sold a version under their name (it was not a success).

The Newton division of Apple was literally days away from being spun off into an independent company (there was already new management staff in place and offices set up in another city) when Steve Jobs re-assumed control of the Apple and almost immediately stopped the spinoff and killed the product ( :'( :'(). There is only speculation as to why, but one reason may be that the Newton was entirely a product of previous management, which had been instrumental in getting Jobs ousted from Apple. I'm sure he felt no ownership of the product. And Jobs allegedly hated the whole idea of a stylus-based interface.

The MessagePad was a hit with the medical offices, it allowed doctors to carry around a device to take notes and keep info in a database. I bought a 2100 from eBay to replace my 2000  back around 2002/2003, and it has a sticker on the back that says BBC with a bar code. It still had a database installed with all the patient information intact (identified by patient number, no names). There were privacy slip-ups even then!

One of the more interesting usages of the 2100 was as a web server. There were several people in the Newton community that wrote software that allowed the Newton to be used quite successfully as a web server. They my still be running. Several wrote drivers that allowed the use of WiFi cards, something that post-dates the Newton system. As might be expected, there is still a hard-core group of Newton enthusiasts who write unofficial patches to keep the systems going. One wrote a patch to fix the Y2K problem. Another wrote a patch to fix a similar date-oriented problem that occurred in 2010, but I couldn't quite get that one to work. So alas, my 2100 got retired in 2010.

I had a collection of ebooks on my 2000/2100, but due to the quality of early LCD screens, it's not a great reading experience. I had a relational database installed on mine that kept track of my 3000+ (at the time). It went with me almost everywhere, especially book-hunting.

Several years ago, I took it to a lunch with friends. The wife of one of the fellows looked at it and was horrified. "It's so huge! Who would want something like that?" Next year the iPad came out, and it didn't seem so huge any more.  ;D

Long story, but it's close to the 20th anniversary of the introduction of a ground-breaking device that has pretty much been forgotten and I thought it deserved mention. With a modern screen and updated SDcard support, I believe it would still be competitive. Some people have ported the OS to the Android platform. A nice project, but I'm afraid the Newton ship has sailed.

Too bad. RIP, Newton.


Edit: This probably should have gone in the Apple devices section. Oh, well. Moderators feel free to move or not as you see fit.

The Book Corner / Peter S. Fischer autobiography
« on: April 19, 2014, 09:58:36 pm »
Most of you don't know who Peter Fischer is, but he was a writer/producer/show-runner/script-editor for a number of series in the 80/90s, including Columbo, Ellery Queen, and most notably, Murder, She Wrote. He was the main person that came up with most of the twists and clues for these series.

He's published an autobiographical work about his experiences in show business while working on those series and his TV movies. I find this sort of thing fascinating, and this book is no exception. I found his writing style to be very engaging, and his stories of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans to be very enjoyable. The anecdotes of working with Peter Falk and Angela Landsbury were worth the price of the book to me. Falk was a huge pain for the studio executives to work with, and Angela Landsbury couldn't resist meddling with the series after a few years. There was also some discussion of why some series failed. The author comes across as very self-effacing.

Since his retirement from show business (due mainly to disillusionment), Mr. Fischer has concentrated on writing thrillers and historical mysteries (self-published) for the last few years. I've started the first of the mystery series, but it has some formatting issues which need to be fixed in order for me to recommend them.


Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / Sony's new tablet
« on: March 31, 2014, 07:17:15 am »
Sony has unveiled a new tablet... this one has an eInk screen instead of LCD. Interesting.

Article at BBC News:

Expensive, but claims to go three weeks on a battery charge.


Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / Samsung Galaxy phone as ereader
« on: March 25, 2014, 12:19:26 pm »
I've been reading ebooks on my new Galaxy S3 phone, and I'm a bit surprised by how much I've been using it for that. I have assorted eInk Kindles, iThings, eInk Kobo, etc, but the 4.8" OLED screen on the S3 seems to have hit my sweet spot for reader size/form-factor.

I'm using Moon+ Pro (reads Mobi, ePub, and PDF) as the reading app, and I can tint the background, turn down the backlight, and adjust the type boldness to get an image I can read for hours without any discomfort. Reversing the image (light type and dark background) helps for a variation, also. These kind of reader apps allow one to customize just about everything about the appearance of the text, which is a big deal for me.

I put a double-capacity battery in mine and it stays connected to a charger by the bedside all night (it's my alarm clock), so I don't have a problem with running the battery down by doing a lot of reading.

Of course, I'm fickle and may decide to go back to printed books next week.  :o


Anything Else Amazon / Amazon Sunday deliveries
« on: March 15, 2014, 08:30:25 am »
I'd read some comments about Amazon wanting to start Sunday deliveries using USPS facilities. I guess it's happening, I ordered a protective case for my new phone, and the delivery is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday). We'll see if it happens.  ;D ;D


My 18 month old HTC EVO died while I was out bike riding this afternoon. Totally black screen, even though apparently the phone is still operative.

Now the question is: Do I get another Android phone (all the current Android phones from my carrier have at least one major thing that keeps me from being enthusiastic about them), or do I get back into the Apple fold and get an iPhone?

I've stayed away from iPhones because they don't have micro SD card support and you're stuck with the battery they have installed (I put a double capacity battery in my HTC). And they cost about 80% more than a corresponding Android device.

What a decision. It could go either way at the moment.


The Book Corner / Mystery/Thriller Oldies Being enKindled
« on: February 08, 2014, 10:54:28 pm »
Looking over the books being issued in the next three months, I see several series being re-issued that are of some interest to me, and possibly one or two people here. It appears that most of Leslie Charteries' Saint books are being issued shortly at $4.00 each (many are available for Prime Lending).

The Saint books are definitely in the pulp-magazine crime/thriller genre, at least until fairly late in the series. Published between 1928 and 1970, the series follows the adventures of Simon Templar, called the Saint because of the drawing of stick-figures with a halo that he leaves as calling cards. There have been at least three TV series and a half-dozen movies made of his adventures. All good fun. The early Saint TV series with Roger Moore probably is closest to the book character. The latest movie with Val Kilmer was not recognizable as a Saint picture.

 Also being published as ebooks are many of Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley series. Mrs. Bradley is an interesting character. She's not all that likable, being described (as Wikipedia puts it):

Bradley is often described in reptilian terms: “a deadly serpent basking in the sun or of an alligator smiling gently while birds removed animal irritants from its armoured frame”; or “a hag-like pterodactyl”. Perhaps the most amusing description is to be found in Dead Men’s Morris (1936), where she has “the maternal anxiety of a boa-constrictor which watches its young attempting to devour their first donkey”!

Not your average detective, but very entertaining. Mrs. Bradley appears in 66 novels, published from 1929 to 1984. These books were wildly popular in the UK, but little known to mystery readers in the US.

There was a one-series UK TV show in the nineties starring Diana Rigg as Mrs. Bradley (in a truly mind-boggling case of miscasting) that was entertaining, despite being nothing like the book character. Theses books are priced at $4.00 each also, and many are available for Prime Lending (some are available now).

Give these series a try for something a bit different.


Other (non-Kindle) eReaders / My Kindle and Kobo store comparison
« on: January 14, 2014, 05:03:32 pm »
After seeing statements that the Amazon store has a larger and better selection of ebooks than other ebook stores, I decided to put this to the test. It's not an exhaustive test, it's based on the ebooks that I am interested in purchasing. This criteria includes SF, Mystery, biography, science-fact, and music-oriented books. It's weighted towards 'older' books, i.e., pre-1970/1980 (going back to the 1880s). I spent two hours doing searches on authors and books on the Kobo store from a selection of books I have obtained from the Kindle store. I checked literally hundreds of books.

I found there wasn't a significant difference in what titles were available. Those that weren't fell mainly into three different categories: 1) The entire Baen Books collection* (which has a deal with Amazon), 2) a number of music-oriented works, including biographies of musicians, lesson books, and books on specific brands of guitars, and 3) books that are self-published or published by very small organizations.

There were some mostly minor differences in prices, with Amazon almost invariably being the lower of the two.

There are valid reasons for choosing to go with the Amazon eco-structure, but I don't believe that wider selection of books is one of them by the terms of my experiment. I certainly don't feel any pressing need to switch from Amazon at the moment.

Your mileage may vary.


* Baen books can be purchased as ePubs directly from Baen.

Let's Talk Kindle! / Another reason I like my Kindle/ereaders...
« on: January 12, 2014, 07:35:35 pm »
I was reading The French Powder Mystery by Ellery Queen today. I'm re-reading the Queen Corpus more or less in order, and this is the second of the series. I got halfway through it and hit a sentence that just didn't make any sense. I read through it five or six times, and it still didn't make any sense. I was sure I had this in paperback format from many years ago, so I unearthed it from Box #54 (of 97) of my stored books. The paperback book was a 1959 reprint of a 1930 book, and the pages were turning very brown. It took about two or three minutes until I started wheezing because of the paper dust. I quickly found the problem and repacked the book and took some medication. After a while the wheezing went away.

I don't miss older printed books at all.  ;D

BTW, I discovered the problem was that the conversion process had thrown away the end half of one sentence and the beginning half of the next sentence and concatenated them. No sense at all. This publisher is having an increasing number of typos in their ebooks as time goes on. A shame, they started off better than average.


Not Quite Kindle / I did NOT kill this dog!
« on: December 16, 2013, 09:32:26 am »
Despite what it looks like:

I was out geocaching at some Central Texas cemeteries and this friendly creature wandered in from a farmhouse up the road and walked around the cemetery with me. He got bored after a little while and laid down to enjoy the sun. I gave him some ear skritches and he wanted to get in the car and come home with me. He even trotted beside the car out to the road.


The Book Corner / Edward D. Hoch mysteries now on Kindle
« on: November 29, 2013, 07:04:41 pm »
I've been looking forward to this day for quite some time. The Mysterious Press has released some of award-winning Edward D. Hoch's many mystery short stories and novels as ebooks. Hoch was one of the most popular writers of short stories for The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for many years, and as known as  master of the form, writing over 950 short stories, in which there were 14 series characters! These stories emphasize mystery and deduction; if you want car car chases or graphic violence then these won't be for you. I don't know of any gratuitous sex and vulgarities, but I can't vouch for this for all the works, having been able to find and read only a very few of the stories (enough to whet my appetite for more, though). I think he only wrote three or four novel length works.

I immediately purchased:



Not Quite Kindle / Amazon vendors requesting 5 star ratings
« on: November 12, 2013, 10:08:24 am »
I get fairly frequent emails from Amazon's third-party vendors asking me to give them a five star rating. I rarely give a rating, because I feel that if the vendor did only what they said they were going to do, i.e., ship the product advertised in the specified time frame, that does not deserve a five star rating: it's a three star rating.

I feel that if they want a five star rating, they'll have to do something better than just pop the product into a box and ship it. I've had vendors in the past send along a hand-written note thanking me for my business and giving me a name and phone number to call if I'm not satisfied. I've also had a few send along something extra, such as the vendor that included a small 1" tall plastic replica of their company mascot (a cute dog). These people will get more than a three star review, because they went to some extra effort.

I'm thinking it may be a symptom of a society where there is an increasing tendency to view things by extremes with no middle ground. You have to either love something or hate it, someone is either a moron or a genius, no middle ground.

Or maybe I'm just grumpy today.


Let's Talk Kindle! / Matchbook Program-- What's your oldest purchase?
« on: November 03, 2013, 12:42:05 pm »
Just curious on how far back their info goes. I only have on book eligible, I bought the print version in 2006.


The Book Corner / New Burglar book by Lawrence Block
« on: October 30, 2013, 09:11:03 am »
There's a new Bernie Rhodenbarr book due out in December (Hurray!).

Last night on the Craig Ferguson show, Lawrence Block said he's self-publishing his new book. He says he had retired after his last book, but decided to try writing another.

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