Free Markets, Free People

Technology


This is the Droid you’re looking for

Well, I no longer have a Motorola Droid. It’s gone.

Verizon gives you this 30 day deal where you’re allowed to swap out your phone. so I decided to take a look at the HTC Incredible. To make a long story short, I walked out with one.

The one sticking point with me was that the HTC didn’t have a physical keyboard. But I’ve noticed over the last few days that I didn’t even use the physical keyboard on the Motorola. The Incredible just seemed like a better device, after playing with it in the Verizon store for a while.

It has a 1GH processor compared to the 533MH processor on the Droid. An 8 megapixel camera compared to the Droid’s 5 megapixel one. And the virtual keyboard is pretty good, too. My only complaint so far is that the predictive text feature on the Droid works better. I’m sure I’ll get used to the way HTC has implemented the feature but the Droid’s was better out of the box.

The camera on the Incredible seems to be a lot better than the Droid, and it works a lot faster.

The HTC also has one thing most newer cell phones completely lack, and the the little lanyard attachment point. I have this little utility pouch from Wingnut that I hang off a belt loop of my pants, or my motorcycle pants. I use it to carry a multitool, a backup knife, a Cross Ion pen, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. It also has a cell phone pocket with a quick-release lanyard you can attach to the phone.

Anyway, I have the new Incredible, and so far I’m really liking it. It’s what I’m using to write this post, in fact.

Thank you, Verizon, for letting me use a Droid for a week as a trainer phone for Android, and then giving me a free upgrade to a better phone.

At least, I think it’s a better phone. The real test will come on Sunday, when we see if the call quality to BlogTalkRadio is as good on the HTC as the Droid was last week.


A new pleasure (Updated)

So, yesterday Verizon notified me that I was eligible for a new phone upgrade. I popped ’round to the phone store, and after much hemming and hawing, “settled” for a Motorola Droid.

Itbseems to have a nice application market, one of whose products is the app I’m using to write this post.

Yep. I’m phone-blogging.

It’s really amazing where the march of mobile technology is taking us. Yesterday, I came across an old news video from 1981, which talked about how some newspapers were starting to put out electronic versions–text only, of course–onto computers. Subscribers with computers could log on via modem and download the whole paper. It only took two hours to download, at a cost of $10 per download–the equivalent of $23 in 2010 dollars.

And today, I can instantly publish to the whole world via my phone, for free.

We’ve now advanced to the point where we have phones whose least valuable feature is the ability to make telephone calls.

UPDATE: Sorry about the multiple posts. I kept getting a bad gateway error, so I kept republishing…without looking to see if it published. My bad, not the phone’s.

So far the phone just rocks.


The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”


All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.


New Technology gives a 360 degree view of devastation in Haiti

I have to admit upfront that I have a conflict of interest on this, but the Immersive Media cameras from my sisters company are amazing. Throw in that it gives some of the best views of the devastation in Haiti and I am kind of speechless. Go ahead and take a trip with them through Port au Prince and drag the view to look around in a full 360 degree view from a moving vehicle.

In addition to taking you into this disaster the potential applications seem rather large to me. Check it out. You can grab the screen while it is still or when playing and drag the view wherever you want.

index.php?clip=Video2

The initial commercial applications are kind of obvious, but I am curious about the applications to entertainment. Specifically movies. Like most new ways of filming I expect the initial efforts to be gimmicky, and low in actual value other than the novelty. However, imagine watching movies with an interactive ability for the viewer to shift the camera view from a first person point of view. The directors focus becomes less of an issue, and all of what is happening in view of whoever a character is becomes part of the story. Talk about taking the idea behind something like Vantage Point to a new level. Other interactive technologies could be combined with more impact.

You can view more footage of Haiti and look into the technology at http://www.immersivemedia.com/haiti/

Update: The autoplay was annoying, and the embed for the other footage seems to be having a problem at the moment, so I included a link to a video instead until the flash embed starts working again.


A Closer Look At European Health Care

We continue to hear how wonderful it is as compared to the horrible US system.

But is it? One of the fundamental truths of any health care system is you have infinite demand meeting finite resources (beds, doctors, availability, etc). Whatever system a country has, that truth doesn’t change.

So, regardless of system, there is going to be some sort of rationing. It is unavoidable and inevitable.

Now add a desire to control and cut costs associated with the provision of health care to the mix (the promise of every one of these government systems). On the one side, as European nations have done, access to health care is expanded to include everyone. On the other hand, these same nations attempt to control health care costs.

The result? Very mixed. France is always held up as the exception to the rule that government health care can’t be both good and inexpensive. But a closer examination seems to indicate that it isn’t an exception at all:

A World Health Organization survey in 2000 found that France had the world’s best health system. But that has come at a high price; health budgets have been in the red since 1988.

In 1996, France introduced targets for health insurance spending. But a decade later, the deficit had doubled to 49 billion euros ($69 billion).

“I would warn Americans that once the government gets its nose into health care, it’s hard to stop the dangerous effects later,” said Valentin Petkantchin, of the Institut Economique Molinari in France. He said many private providers have been pushed out, forcing a dependence on an overstretched public system.

Why have private providers been “pushed out”? Because government has provided health care “cheaper” than do private providers (and obviously at a loss given the deficit). Notice I said “cheaper”. That doesn’t necessarily mean “better”.

And the same thing is being seen in other European health care systems which are considered “models” of government run health care:

Similar scenarios have been unfolding in the Netherlands and Switzerland, where everyone must buy health insurance.

“The minute you make health insurance mandatory, people start overusing it,” said Dr. Alphonse Crespo, an orthopedic surgeon and research director at Switzerland’s Institut Constant de Rebecque. “If I have a cold, I might go see a doctor because I am already paying a health insurance premium.”

Cost-cutting has also hit Switzerland. The numbers of beds have dropped, hospitals have merged, and specialist care has become harder to find. A 2007 survey found that in some hospitals in Geneva and Lausanne, the rates of medical mistakes had jumped by up to 40 percent. Long ranked among the world’s top four health systems, Switzerland dropped to 8th place in a Europe-wide survey last year.

Dr. Crespo’s point is simply an astute observation of human nature. If something doesn’t directly cost the user, why would the user ration the use of such a benefit?

The use, however, still costs someone or something. The doctor must be paid, the institution must be paid, etc. So in the end, the only way to control costs is to cut payments. Eventually, the incentives to enter the health care field become less attractive (unless you like long hours, overrun waiting rooms, minimal time with patients, being second-guessed by a bureaucracy and making much less than a private system allows for compensation) and there are fewer that enter the field. Hospital beds then drop, hospitals merge and there are fewer specialists available to serve the population as Switzerland is discovering.

And then there’s the lack of innovation to face.

Bureaucracies are slow to adopt new medical technologies. In Britain and Germany, even after new drugs are approved, access to them is complicated because independent agencies must decide if they are worth buying.

When the breast cancer drug Herceptin was proven to be effective in 1998, it was available almost immediately in the U.S. But it took another four years for the U.K. to start buying it for British breast cancer patients.

The promise that has been made in the US is health care reform will return the decision making to the doctor. But that’s simply a false promise given the priorities of the reform we’ve been promised. It is to cut cost and make care “affordable” to all. Somewhere is a bureaucracy in waiting which will decide what “affordable” means – and it won’t include your doctor.

So you can expect innovation to begin to slow. Why invest billions when a bureaucracy will decide whether or not it’s a medicine or treatment worth the cost. The same bureaucracy will also decide what it will pay for your innovation. Of course, if the innovator can’t recover the cost of development and make a profit as incentive toward more innovation, the probability exits the developer will simply stop such research.

“Government control of health care is not a panacea,” said Philip Stevens, of International Policy Network, a London think-tank. “The U.S. health system is a bit of a mess, but based on what’s happened in some countries in Europe, I’d be nervous about recommending more government involvement.”

Words of wisdom most likely to be ignored by our legislators here. And the unfortunate thing is it will not only destroy an excellent health care system here, but, given the level of government spending forecast, tank the rest of the economy as well.

~McQ

[HT: Carol D]


Energy Policy – “10 Inconvenient Truths”

Sometimes the little surprises life hands you are the most pleasant. While in Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference, my trip sponsored by API, I happened to meet another blogger who introduced himself to me as a “raging liberal”. In the course of three days and a few good beers, Chris Nelder and I had some very enjoyable and interesting conversations. And, interestingly, Chris and I agree on where the policy debate stands as it pertains to energy. Chris wrote an outstanding article detailing his observations about the current situation, and, for the most part, I agree completely with his well thought out assessment. Here is his list of “10 Inconvenient Truths” that he feels all policy makers must understand before they can effectively plan for the future:

1. We have extracted nearly all of the world’s easy, cheap oil and gas, and now we’re getting down to the difficult, expensive stuff. The largest untapped resources that remain are in extreme places like deepwater and the Arctic, and marginal formations like shale. As a result, global oil production has for all intents and purposes peaked. Natural gas production will also peak in 10 to 15 years. Neither technology nor high prices will change that. Therefore we must begin to replace those fuels with renewables, and use what remains much more efficiently, with the expectation that most of the world’s oil and gas will be gone by the end of this century.

While I agree with Chris’s point about renewables, I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that “most” of the world’s gas and oil will be gone by the end of the century, especially if we make progress developing cheap, renewable and clean alternatives. That’s not to say he might not be right, but I continue to look at the improvements in technology and the fact that the same sort of predictions have been made for decades and here we are. But on the main point of gearing up renewables, we agree completely. We must prepare for the possibility Chris is right and we need to do that now.

2. Drilling for oil and gas drilling in the OCS and ANWR must and will be done; our need for those fuels is simply too great to pass them up. An additional 2-3 mbpd will put a dent in the roughly 12 mbpd we now import, but if we drill for it now, it won’t come to market for 10 years or more. By that time, it probably won’t even compensate for the depletion of conventional oil in North America, nor will it do much to reduce prices. But it will be crucially necessary, and producing it won’t make an ugly mess of the environment.

You see someone on the left here who has studied the problem, understands the processes used and has formed an opinion that is outside his side’s political mainstream. He understands that technology has advanced to the point that the oil and gas industry can drill for oil and gas safely and with a very small footprint. In fact, advances in sub sea technology are almost to the point where the entire process can be safely and productively located under the waves. So, in a “comprehensive” scheme, the left has got to drop its almost knee-jerk resistance to such drilling and understand it must be a part of an overall energy solution.

3. Renewables are clearly the long-term answer, as is an all-electric infrastructure that runs on its clean power. However, it will likely take over 30 years for renewables to ramp up from a less than 2% share of primary energy today to 20% or more. They probably won’t even be able to fill the gap created by the decline of fossil fuels. Oil and gas currently provide about 58% of the world’s primary energy, and they will remain our primary fuels for a long time to come.

To believe “green fuels”/renewables are the immediate and total answer to today’s energy needs is to deny reality. We have to remember that there is going to be a growing energy gap as more and more nations come on-line in the first-world and demand more energy as a result. Oil, gas, nuclear and coal are going to play a large and significant part of bridging that gap even as we work to develop renewables. As a nation we cannot afford that sort of short-sighted thinking. It is critical that everyone understand that while the preference is for renewable, clean fuels, the reality is they’re still quite a ways off, while the energy demand continues to grow unabated and certainly with no concern for our personal energy preferences.

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China Toughens Stance On Greenhouse Gas Emissions

China has stated it won’t be left holding the financial bag in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Calling itself a “poorer” nation, China wants the 7 most developed countries to spend 1% of GDP on helping them and others.

China raised the price of its co-operation in the world’s climate change talks yesterday by calling for developed countries to spend 1 per cent of their domestic product helping poorer nations cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The funding – amounting to more than $300bn (£190bn, €240bn) based on Group of Seven countries – would be spent largely on the transfer of “green” technologies, such as renewable energy, to poorer countries.

Gao Guangsheng, head of the climate change office at the National Reform and Development Commission, the Chinese government’s main planning body, said that even such large funds “might not be enough”.

China’s toughened stance comes weeks ahead of United Nations talks in Poland aimed at forging a successor to the Kyoto protocol, whose main provisions expire in 2012.

China also suggests that to this point, emissions reduction has been mostly talk:

“Climate change policies need a lot of money to be invested, however developed countries have not made any substantive promises about how much they are going to spend on,” said Mr Gao. “And they did not fulfil some of the promises they made in the past very well either.”

Of course a number of reasons relate to why those previous promises haven’t been fulfilled. Most of them relate to economics and the realization that their promises are potentially crippling to their economies. That’s effecting the G20 meeting as we speak:

Fears are mounting that environmental issues could be almost entirely sidelined at tomorrow’s G20 summit in London as leaders of the world’s largest economies resist calls to make clear green commitments as part of the meeting’s closing communiqué.

According to Guardian reports, UK officials are leading a last-ditch effort to have clear environmental commitments incorporated into the global economic recovery package that will back up politicians’ repeated calls for a ” green new deal”.

Gordon Brown has said that the inclusion of a commitment on the environment would be one of the tests of the summit’s success, but he admitted that the negotiations were likely to be tough.

The draft version of the communiqué leaked at the weekend made only a passing reference to climate change and it is thought some nations are resisting more detailed commitments to dedicate a proportion of the global stimulus package to green projects that they fear could provide an excuse for protectionist measures.

There is also reluctance to incorporate climate change commitments that could be seen to step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations, which are continuing this week at a separate conference in Bonn, Germany.

This, of course, is good news. Why?

“Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything that suggests green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda.”

That’s because that is the priority – not that anyone should expect the G20 to get any of financial part of it right either. However, the priority does keep them from making commitments that would cripple economic growth. And they, of course, know that – which is why they’re avoiding it and spinning it as a desire not to “step on the toes of the UN’s climate change negotiations”.

But back to China – you’ll enjoy this. It is called “having your cake and eating it too”:

[China's climate ambassador Yu Qingtai]… said that China was willing to make a “due contribution” to curbing emissions, but warned that the country would not see its citizens “left in the dark” as a result of binding emission targets and was within its rights to continue to invest in coal power that allows its economy to grow.

Gotta love the Chinese – they make some of our spin merchants seem like rookies. China will decide what its “due contribution” will be while it builds thousands of coal fired plants. In the meantime, per China, it is up to the rest of the world to do what is necessary to curb emissions because, you know, the poorer nations just aren’t up to it. Su Wei, Chinese delegation chief to the UN climate change talks in Bonn:

Su said the success of the Copenhagen summit lies in whether or not the developed countries would make “substantial arrangements” for transferring climate-friendly technologies to and providing funds for developing countries.

Su noted the establishment of three international “mechanisms” is very important among the “substantial arrangements.”

“The first is to set up an international mechanism on climate-friendly technology development and transfer, to eliminate barriers hindering technology transfer, so that developing countries can get access to such technologies,” he said.

“Secondly, we should set up an effective financing mechanism to ensure the developed countries provide adequate funds for developing countries in their bid to cut emissions and fight climate change,” he added.

Thirdly, Su said an “effective supervision mechanism” should beset up to monitor the above-mentioned technology transfer and funding.

Nice. Known as the “you pay, we take” program, this pretty much excuses China (and the rest of the poorer BRIC nations) from doing much of anything. As long as China is convinced that a) enough technology hasn’t been transfered, or b) there hasn’t been enough “effective financing” of the effort, it can c) exempt itself from any cuts while insisting the rest of the developed world stick by its commitments.

Now that is how a master loots your wallet.

~McQ


Amazon Kindle 2 Review

I am a reader.  I am, in fact, a serious reader.  For most of my life, this was a bit of a financial burden, and over time, an even greater physical burden, since I acquired a library of hundreds of books.  A couple of years ago, I was liberated from much of this by the acquisition of a Sony PRS-500 eBook Reader.  As of this last Tuesday afternoon, my Sony Reader had 400 books stored on it that I had acquired over the last three years.

On Tuesday night, my PRS-500 went Tango Uniform.

The Amazon Kindle 2

The Amazon Kindle 2

A dilemma immediately arose about how best to replace it.  With the Kindle 2 now out, I had the following choice.  Buy a new PRS-700 from Sony, or get a Kindle.  With the new PRS-700, I could transfer all my old books.  But I was stuck with Sony’s horrendously inconvenient book-buying process.  Or I could get a new Kindle 2, which was a bit cheaper, far easier to obtain books for, but would require a massively inconvenient re-acquisition or conversion of my old books to the Kindle.

I made my choice, and bought the Kindle.

It arrived on Thursday, and I have to say that it’s not only signifigacantly better than the Sony, it’s a fantastic book reader in its own right.

The Form Factor

The Kindle is a bit larger than the Sony due to the QWERTY keyboard in the lower portion of the machine.  It’s still small enough, though to be conveniently sized, and easy to handle.  It’s quite thin, and light.  In fact, the deluxe leather cover I purchased with it is almost as heavy as the Kindle itself.

The one downside to the device’s form factor is the QWERTY keyboard–but that’s pretty much an unavoidable downside.  The buttons are small, and set very close together.  This makes typing a bit slow a laborious.  Of course, it’s physically impossible to get a decent keyboard on a small device, so you know going in that typing isn’t going to be convenient.  It’s no different from a Blackberry or palm device.  The surprise isn’t that the keyboard doesn’t allow convenient typing, but rather that there’s a usable keyboard at all.  The Kindle’s keyboard is usable, and that is probably the best that anyone can reasonably expect.

That having been said, the buttons are designed in such a way as to minimize accidental pressing unless you intend to press them, which is a plus.

The controls are well-positioned on the device.  As you can see from the picture, there are six main navigation buttons along the sides.

Left Buttons Right Buttons
Previous Page Home
Next Page Next page
Menu
Back

In addition to the buttons, there is a joystick control placed between the menu and back buttons for navigating the cursor through the menus.

The nice thing about the design of the buttons is that the depress to the center of the device, not to the edge.  This does a great job of preventing you from inadvertantly changing pages, or going to the home screen by accident while you handle the device.  it’s a small, but very convenient detail.  It’s also nice that there are Next page buttons on both sides of the device.  This is the button you’re going to hit most often, after all, so they are conveniently accessible at all times, no matter how you hold the device.  That’s helped out by the fact that they are significantly larger than the other buttons.

Kindle 2 and Laptop for size comparison

Kindle 2 and Laptop for size comparison

The image to the right gives a good real-world size comparison.  As you can see, the Kindle is conveniently small.

One final note on the form factor.  With the keyboard on the bottom, the screen is raised to the top of the device.  This means that when you read in bed, you can rest the bottom of the device on the covers, and the whole screen is visible.  On my Sony, the covers would obscure the bottom of the screen.  Since I read before sleeping every night, this is a noticeable improvement.

The E-Ink Screen

I was a fan of the eInk technology on the Sony, but there were a few drawbacks.  The contrast beteen the gray background and black text could have been better.  The refresh rate of the screen was also noticeably–sometimes distractingly–slow.  With only 4 grayscale colors, book covers and other images were nearly illegible.

That was a first-generation eInk screen, of course, and with the Kindle 2, there have been obvious improvements to the technology.  The gray background is a bit lighter, increasing the contrast.  The page refresh rate is also much, much faster, which makes “turning” the pages far less noticeable.  It certainly takes less time than turning a page in a physical book.

The biggest improvement is in the fact that the screen displays 16 grayscale colors now.  This makes the pictures far more legible and photograph-like.  In fact, every time you turn the Kindle off, a picture of a some author or literary scene is displayed, and they all look good on the screen.

Device Features

The most convenient of the feastures has to be the different font sizes.  The Kindle not only uses a pleasant and easy to read serif font, it offers a choice of 6 different font sizes.  There’s enough variation in font size to make easy reading for practically anyone.

Navigating through the device is very easy.  No matter where you are, you can get to the main menu screen by pushing the Home key.  The back key gets you out of any menus or secondary screens with one click.

Having to navigate through menus with the joystick control is slightly inconvenient compared to the Sony, however.  The Sony provides ten physical buttons that correspond to the menu items, so instead of navigating, you simply push the appropriate button.  On the Kindle, you have to nudge the joystick to move from item to item.

The menu system is faily intuitive, providing you with slightly different menus, depending on what screen you’re looking at on the device.  At all times, you are presented with menus that are relevant to what you’re doing with the device at the time.

If you find you’re doing something where you can’t actually read your book, the Kindle offers a voice-to-text feature that is surprisingly good.  You get the choice between a male or female voice, and can vary the speed at which the voice reads between three different settings.  The voice is obviously computer-generated, but it sounds closer to a human voice than any device I’ve previously worked with.  It still has trouble pronouncing certain words, but for listening while you drive–or ride your motorcycle–it’s a pretty neat feature.  It’s also neat that the Kindle has a built-in speaker, as well as a 3.5mm mini jack for headphones.

In addition, the Kindle will also play MP3 files.

Unfortunately, some publishers threatened to sue Amazon, saying that the voice to text feature was a copyright violation–which it clearly is not.  Amazon, however, rather than getting involved in a legal battle, allows publishers to disable the text to speech feature, so not every book will be hearable.

The Kindle does not take any external storage media, like an SD card.  It does, however, come with 2GB of onboard memory.  That’s enough memory to store about 1500 books, which seems like more than enough to get by.  Any book you buy at Amazon is perpetually available for download, too so, you can always swap out books if you find that 1,500 books isn’t enough.

Going Online

QandO on the Kindle

QandO on the Kindle

The Kindle contains an EVDO modem that operates off the Sprint 3G network.  When you buy a book from the Amazon store, the book is delivered directly to the device via the network.  In addition, the Kindle is assigned an email address, so you can take your text or RTF documents, and email them to that address, and Amazon will, for ten cents, convert the document to the Kindle format, and deliver it straight to the device as well.

eBook prices at the Amazon store are surprisingly good.  The cost of an eBook is significantly less than the paper versions.  I was able to buy Amity Schlaes’ newest book, The Forgotten Man, for $9.57, as opposed to the $25 hardback price.  In addition to that, I was able to pick up modern translations of some classics, such as Livy’s History of Rome, the collected works of Tacitus in one eBook, Xenophon’s Anabasis, The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Julius Ceasar’s Commentaries on the Wars, and The Histories of Herodotus for about $3.50 each.

In addition to wireless book delivery from the Amazon store, you can also transfer books from your computer to the device via the included USB cable. So, if you don’t want to shell out the dime for wireless delivery to your device when you convert a document, you can have Amazon convert the document and send it to your email address for free, then use the USB cable to transfer it to the device.

I buy a lot of sci-fi at the Baen Books Webscriptions web site, which offers books in the Kindle format.  In addition, nearly all of the books from the Gutenberg Project, as well as many other titles, are all available for free in several eBook formats, including the Kindle, from ManyBooks.  Having the USB connection allows the Kindle to be seen as a hard drive on your computer, and you can transfer those eBooks from your computer to the Kindle.

In addition to going online at Amazon, the Kindle is also a web browser, and you can simply go to a web site and read it.  I’m not sure if this is going to be a permanent feature of the Kindle, because I’m sure Sprint wants money for the use of its EVDO network, so this may or may not be a feature that goes away.  On the other hand, it’s a pretty pretty primitive browser.  It takes forever for a web page to load, and you have to use the joystick to navigate from link to link.  It’s not very convenient, so I can’t see someone wanting to use it on a regular basis.

You can, by the way, turn the wireless on and off as necessary, for lots of battery life extension.

Conclusion

I have been extremely impressed by the Kindle.  The speed at which it works, the ease of obtaining books, and the though that has gone into its design make this a definite winner in my book. (Pun.  Deal with it.)  It has been a pleasure to use for the last couple of days, and from my experience, it is vastly superior to the Sony Reader in nearly every way.  It’s been an absolute joy to use.  Now, all I need is a new Palm Pre, and I’ll be set.

My only problem with it has been how easy and seductive it is to get new books for it.  I just purchased Winston Churchill’s 6-volume memoir of World War II for $36.69.  Clearly, I’m going to have to figure out how to reign those impulse purchases in.


GOP Tech: Clueless Losers

Today, the GOP released a request for proposal for a new web site.  This is the RFP (PDF).  I have read it all the way through.  It’s quite a document.  It’s an especially interesting read for someone like me, who responds to RFPs for web development for a living. I say “interesting” because it’s a masterpiece of confusion and idiocy.

<sarcasm>

I assume it was written by someone who has heard of this new thing called “com-poo-tors”, and who doesn’t actually have one, but has been told that they’ll be very big in the future.

Let’s take a little closer look at this document, shall we?

Integrate outside products through common API’s, widgets, or iframes (examples: Kimbia fundraising, Voter Vault, Widgetbox, Ning).

As far as I know, there is no common API for those applications.  Each has it’s own API, I’m sure.  They may be accessible through a common technology, i.e., any ODBC compliant data/programming model like PHP or .NET will probably be able to access them in some way.  But there’s not going to be anything common about it.  I also love the use of the term “widgets”.  Because every tech person knows what a “widget” is.  It’s such a specific term.

But the best part is asking for the use of the IFRAME tag.  I guess that’s OK.  As long as you won’t be wanting to use the XHTML Strict doctype, or anything.  Or you’ve never heard of the OBJECT tag.

Flash interfaces can often make mundane tasks exciting, and having Flash developers who understand user behavior will make the site more user-friendly.

Well, that’s a perfectly uncontroversial statement.  If there’s one thing that everybdy in the web-based tech community agrees on, it’s how wonderful Flash is.  because it makes things, you know, move.  And it’s so easy to optimize for search engines!

An ideal client will have a CMS that is already built out and ready to plug into the system, so the only programming time will be building the outward facing presence.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.Because, as everyone knows, every CMS system uses the exact database schema that the RNC uses, so there will need to be no data import, or customized programming to access the RNC’s content data.  All you have to do is install the CMS, and, like magic, the only work you’ll have to do is set up a really nice theme. And how convenient that Flash will require no custom ActionScript programming to integrate into the CMS.

The really helpful thing about the RFP is that there are no indications of what database backend the RNC uses, no information about the database size or schema, no indication of the server technology they’d like to use, or, actually, any technical details at all.  But, when you throw all that stuff in, the RFP gets so, you know, long, and boring.

But long and boring is one thing this document is not.  In fact, it’s only two pages long.  Once you start throwing that sort of stuff in, you end up with a hideous and stuffy nightmare of an RFP like this.

But, one thing the RNC does want:  They want to know what it’ll cost them.

All costs of the project will be delivered with proposal.

Well, it’s a good thing the RFP is so chock full of the kinds of detailed information that will allow a contractor to make accurate time/cost estimates.  But, I kid.  In actuality, the RNC has made costing this proposal childishly simple, with the addition of this:

No limitations on design; the RNC will be in on the entire process and will ensure everything is to our exact specifications.

“No limitations on design”?  Oh.  OK.  There’ll be no limitations on cost, then.  Your web site will cost $.  Or, whatever amount causes you to stop saying, “I’m done fiddling with it now.”  It’s up to you.

I’ll be billing every two weeks, thanks.

</sarcasm>

Surely this is all some sort of elaborate joke.  Perhaps on Monday the RNC will tell us that they were just having us on.  Then, once we’ve all had a good laugh, they’ll release the real RFP.

Because whatever this document is, it’s not an RFP.  At best, this is some sort of marketing-related  statement of intent.  It’s nothing more than a series of barely-related bullet points that say:

  • We want a cool web site.
  • We want neat external applications to run on it.
  • Flash is fun.
  • We want it to be easy to use, ’cause we ain’t got us much of that compooter learnin’.
  • Make it pretty.

This the new, high-tech-savvy GOP?  This is the kind of in-depth attention to leveraging technology that the refurbished, Michel Steele RNC has planned?

This is a travesty.  And it’s sad.  Especially since the opening paragraph states:

This RFP and the ambitious goals behind it result from the help of the RNC Tech Summit and the 7,000 grassroots volunteers who participated both online and in-person.

Wow.  That must have been an über-effective tech summit.