Thursday 29 December 2011

eBook readers and why everyone should have one?

eBook readers and why everyone should have one is a very topical subject. eBook readers have come into vogue with the arrival of Amazon Kindle a few years back. Kindle is a nifty device which works on e-ink technology and so does other eBook readers like Nook, Sony, Kobo etc, which makes reading a pleasure. But would I subscribe to the overall experience of reading a book on a Kindle, is the big question?

I always like to use technology, which reduces the use of paper. Books and bills are one such means to reduce its use. I subscribe to getting all my bills electronically and I have started to read e-books instead of the conventional paper books. The downside of this method is one needs a computer with internet access to get the bills and access their books. Amazon has created a great framework, whereby one can access these books via a Kindle device (using Wi-Fi or 3G) or any other device like a computer, tablet or a mobile phone. This is smart thinking. The reason being one can read a book at any place provided the books are downloaded onto their device. I started to read books on a mobile device and a tablet since the middle of 2011. The first book I read completely from cover to cover was Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson. I read this book on both the mobile phone and on a tablet and I found the experience very very revealing. I didn't have to carry a book with me all the time to read it. I read it wherever I chose to, at car parks whilst waiting for my children, at lunch breaks, at coffee breaks and wherever I found a spare moment. So far I finished reading four eBooks. Coming to the question of Kindle. There is always a feeling that reading eBooks does not give the same experience as one would get reading a conventional Book. I beg to disagree. Coming to the big question, whether Kindle or any other e-book reader gives one the experience that is different from reading on tablets with LCD or Pixel Qi display.  I agree partially that the display on eInk readers is superior for reading books, but the interface with keys is very clumsy. I find that quite off putting. For example, the Kindle Keyboard which I had a chance to read is not the one I will choose to read books for the simple reason that I need to press a button to turn pages and the page changes with a flicker of the screen, which is not the same as reading on a touch based device. Kindle Touch might be the answer, but this device is not available in the UK.

So touch based eBooks is certainly the way people need to adopt to read books. It could in form of a eBook reader or a Tablet. This would save cutting of trees for the use of paper. This year alone there were 1 million + new titles published around the world. Translating this into number of trees that must have been brought down to make paper, your guess is as good as mine. The effect this has on the environment is just unmeasurable.

The following photograph depicts the display of text on three devices, Amazon Keyboard Kindle, iPhone and Adam tablet. The app on both the Adam tablet (Android) and iPhone (iOS) can be viewed on black background with white text or white background with black text.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Satellite Navigation

Satellite navigation (SATNAV) for surface transport especially for cars has been around for many years now. My earliest use of electronic maps was about 6 years back. Back then, I was using HP IPaq handheld device for navigation. It  had TomTom Route planner maps loaded for navigation. I used this device to navigate around UK, Netherlands and Portugal. My first true device for Satellite Navigation was Garmin Nuvi 270. The reason I bought this device was it had both Europe and US maps pre-loaded. The countries I navigated using this device were UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Spain (with some nervousness as the maps were outdated and many new roads just didn't exit, thanks to the drive by the European union to have roads across EU states to be of similar standard) and US. This device is fairly solid and gave very little aggro. I didn't have any major mis-routes so far.

In this post, I will try and present a test I ran using three devices whilst navigating from Birmingham to Aberdeen. Based on the success I had with Garmin Nuvi 270, I bought the Garmin app, touted as the best navigation app on iPhone. As people might have noticed, iPhone GPS in its current state is unusable with Google maps. Its lock on location is off by atleast a few tens of metres. But with Gamin app, the GPS worked like a treat.

Coming to my test, I used three devices, (1) Garmin Nuvi 270, (2) Garmin App on iPhone and (3) Google maps on ZTE Skate. Garmin Nuvi costed me a few hundred bucks a few years back, while the Garmin app costed me £34. The Google maps on ZTE Skate though was free. 

As two of the three devices has a common provider, Garmin, the comparison is more between Garmin and Google Maps. 

I was most impressed with the Garmin device. The Garmin display (even the old one) is very good and the battery drain rate is very reasonable. On full charge it would last atleast 4 hours of driving time. There are a few glitches with navigation routing and even the latest update of the maps missed a few fixed speed cameras in Birmingham. I am very certain that the latest devices by Garmin would be far more advanced than the one I am having and would make navigation more easier.

I was impressed with the Garmin app for iPhone. This app is a good middle solution as it would save one carrying a separate navigation device. However, this device stopped warning about speed cameras mid way through my journey. The routing by this app is very accurate. Furthermore, its prediction of the final time of arrival is fairly spot on. The battery drain rate was ok. A full charge would last me a couple of hours of driving. Not ideal but passable. One needs to carry a in-car charger to charge in case the battery runs out. For Garmin app, I need to buy an addon extra to get live traffic updates, which is not ideal. 

I was also impressed with the free Google maps navigation software. The plus side of this software is it is free. Furthermore, it warned me about traffic hotspots via the 3G network. Its used more traditional and widely used routes. It failed to route me through less congested routes to avoid traffic. However, the battery drain rate was the highest on this device. It barely lasted more than a hour from full charge. The ZTE Skate was running the latest ICS ROM, which my son ported onto this device after painstaking hours of work. Android OS still needs to get its act together with regards to battery drain on its mobile devices.

My winner in this test is Garmin Nuvi 270 for obvious reasons, good display, accurate routing and long battery life. Here are photographs of the three of them side-by-side.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Chrome Webstore

Google have taken another step closer to making their netbook operating system Chrome OS more main stream with Chrome Webstore. Screenshot of this Webstore looks like this. 

It has twelve categories and each has its share of apps that are good. For example, I occasionally like to visit the Times of India Website. I really don't like the layout of the website as it seems drab and using the Web store app, I get something like this, which is neat and cool.

The potential I see is immense. It all depends on how Google wish to play this out. Though lot of the apps are currently only weblinks, Google could have apps per se stored on their Servers (in the Cloud) and people can access them by logging into their Google account the way it is done now. These apps need to be synced so that one doesn't need to install across multiple devices. These days tablets seem to have taken the place of netbooks for those who are looking for a portable handheld device that is not a laptop and at the same time has a smaller screen (sub 10"). Netbook market though  nascent a few years back, was very buoyant. Every PC manufacture (except Apple) have dipped their hands in the netbook pie. It has however seen a dramatic decline in the last year or two mainly because of their weak processors and poor graphics display. People these days are turning towards tablets like iPad, XOOM, Transformer to take care of their internet browsing needs on the couch. There is still a market for powerful laptops  (for more intensive tasks like programming) that are truly portable and it appears that Ultrabooks may be the answer. Having access to Chrome Webstore to these Ultrabooks is quite crucial because it saves crucial hard disk space (SSD) by not installing apps natively on the users machines. It is like having a laptop experience with added impetus from Cloud. We shall see what the future holds for this wonderful webstore.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Future of air travel as we know it today

Is the future of air travel as we know it today coming to an end? Are we going back to the ages where travelling across continents would take weeks, if not months? If we continue on the same track as we are at the moment (without any thought for the future), then it might as well happen. May not be tomorrow, or next week, or next year or even next decade. But it will eventually happen in 30 to 40 years time. Don't believe it. Read on...

Unpretty picture
Fossils fuels if used at the current rate (which will increase in the next decade or two) will eventually run out. The reserves that are easily accessible are slowly shrinking. It was during the last decade the World's oil production had peaked. Finding new reserves is not getting easier. Other forms like permafrost (Methane hydrates), oil sands, etc are not easy and cheap to lay our hands upon. Furthermore, development of energy renewables is not moving at a pace for people to take notice. It is not cheap either. Government grants and subsidies are still needed for the energy generated from renewables to compete with the energy from fossil fuels. 

We have enough energy that comes from our Sun everyday that will support our entire planet's energy needs many times over. However, the current technologies are not mature enough in terms of cost and efficiency to tap the solar energy and store it in an efficient manner. There are companies in the US in the field of R&D and production for tapping and storing Solar power, declaring bankruptcy (about three in month of August 2011 even with help from the US government) which doesn't breed confidence.  The reason for the failure of these companies may be manifold, but it is more to do with lack of human will to serve the humanity and make a difference to the lives of billions of humans on this planet. Short term greed taking precedence over long term benefit for the human civilisation.

If this was to continue, one day we would end up with no fossil fuels to fly our airplanes. Remember fossil fuels are not only used to fly airplanes, but also for all known transportation (leaving aside bicycles, carts or sledges pulled by animals, horses in the wild west and camels in the desert), both on land and sea (though there are nuclear submarines) and also for building everything that comes from plastic. Come to think about it. If we look around us, right from Mobile phones, TVs, Washing machines, Conventional Ovens, Microwave ovens, Coolers, Air Conditioners, Computers, Cars, Watches, there is plastic in each of them in some shape or form. The day the fossil fuels run out will probably bring an end to everything that we hold and use today.  That includes air travel as we know it today. 

Forms of energy like nuclear hasn't done itself any favours with the Fukushima disaster. Tidal and wind energy aren't doing too well either. These forms of energy are seasonal and not reliable like the solar energy. 

The solution is, if one were to build solar farms in the sunniest parts of the planet, there is great reason to believe that one day our planet's entire energy needs could be met. This can be done if the governments around the world come together and invest in the project on a global scale. The huge tracts of waste land and deserts around the world can be used to build these farms. The most likely places would be parts of US, South America, Africa, Middle east, Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan and China, Far east and Australia. Some of the warmer countries in Europe like, Portugal, Spain, Italy, could also chip in. What would this mean? This would simply mean that all the energy needs for surface transportation, homes, offices, factories, industries could be met by Solar energy. For that cars need to become electric and so does other means of transport. There is no way a Solar powered aircraft could be built to fly passengers or for that matter any other form that is safe and reliable, at least in the foreseeable future. 

Thus, fossil fuels starting from 2020 needs to rationed to be used exclusively for Air travel and for manufacturing of items needing plastics.  This will keep use going atleast to the turn of the century if not more.

Eventually fossil fuels will run out completely, how much ever we wish otherwise. That would mean that alternative forms of fuel needs to be identified to fly our airplanes and alternative materials to build items needing plastic. Certainly we can't go back to wood. We will have to hope that someone, someday will come up with a material that will replace plastic. 

Friday 4 November 2011

Unboxing of iPhone 4S and my first thoughts

I pre-ordered iPhone 4S on 13th October online and it was delivered to me on 29th October. Here are a few unboxing photographs......

From the above pictures it is difficult to tell whether you are seeing an iPhone 4S or an iPhone 4. Even on the back of the device you find nothing. Look at the Settings/General/About and you will find the Model number as MD235B, which is indicative of iPhone 4S. To add to that there is Siri, though the hackers have now ported Siri onto iPhone 4 and 3GS.

My first observations are its screen dimension is same as that of an iPhone 3GS. The external chassis and the display (Retinal display) are the most recognisable changes and in addition there are two cameras, one at the front and the other at the rear. The rear also has a LED flash. The perimeter of the phone is surrounded by a brushed aluminium antenna strip. In my opinion it sticks out like a sore thumb especially on a Black iPhone. The rounded edges may have been a feature typical of Apple products, but on the iPhone 4 and 4S it doesn't create the wow feeling.  Coming to the software, it comes preloaded with iOS 5 and Siri. iOS 5 is a great improvement from iOS 4. The way the notifications are displayed (a la Android) is a great improvement. Siri is quite good and it certainly provides the novelty factor. However, the same cannot be said with the battery life. Even my 2+ year old iPhone 3GS battery seem to last longer than the one on iPhone 4S. Apple need to come out with an algorithm, which conserves battery life when the resources needed to run an application are not very intensive.

For iPhone 5, IMO Jon Ive and his team needs to work out of their skin to create a design that has the wow effect. For a start the display size has to increase. Getting rid of the bezel and providing a display based home button would be a step in the right direction. The length of the phone is fine, but the breadth has to increase by atleast 5 mm. The thickness may need to reduce a smidgen. 

For someone with iPhone 4, it would be a gutsy decision to upgrade to iPhone 4S, especially with Siri being ported onto it unofficially. The only plus features compared to iPhone 4 are its Dual Core Processor and a better Camera. The trade-off would be less battery life.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Oneiric Ocelot

It has been a while since I felt writing about Ubuntu. I have been using Ubuntu (a Linux based OS) for more than 6 years now. Off late I was getting impatient with the way Ubuntu was shaping up. Things took a wrong turn in my opinion with the introduction of Unity 2D in Natty Narwhal. Unity hadn't matured sufficiently when Natty was put in place. This meant that Gnome which was the default UI for Ubuntu since its inception was sidelined. I really didn't understand the reason behind the decision. Gnome UI felt really slick and easy to use. With Oneiric, Unity has matured to a great extent and it feels lot more integrated, though I still feel there is room for improvement. For someone so used to the menu structure of Gnome, I felt a bit lost without the menus in the beginning. I am slowly coming to terms with the change. 

Few changes that have taken place since Natty are;

(1) First and foremost, the login screen has changed. It has been made sauve, elegant and dated. It now really looks like an operating system login screen. I hope the guys at Canonical only make superfluous changes to the login screen in the future versions of Ubuntu.

(2) Synaptic has been replaced completely with the Ubuntu Software Centre. To install any application one needs to use USC, leaving aside the CLI. This in a way is a good change. The USC looked a bit out of place in the previous versions of Ubuntu. Now it looks very polished.

(3) Dash launcher for Unity has been modified, wherein the menus come up when an application is selected.

Furthermore, a feature similar to Windows Alt-Tab to switch between various applications has been provided.

(4) The Appearance menu has been reworked. It looks sophisticated. The menu of few others like System settings and Advanced settings and their icons have been reworked to give them a quality appeal.

I like the overall look and feel of Unity now. My desktop looks like this with the beautiful Snowdon mountains in the beautiful country of Wales. You might notice in the bottom the AWN launcher, I had for the past three years or so, which I still like even today:

Further thoughts on 26/11/2011:

I used Oneiric for about a month now. I find the Unity task bar on the left very very distracting, especially if I am running an application that requires access on the left side of the screen. It is good that Ubuntu team is thinking of ways to make it look distinctive from the other operating systems in the market. But this certainly is not the way to go. The AWN task bar in the above picture at the bottom of the screen appears like the best place to have a launcher/task bar. It may seem like a copy cat of Mac, but I would like to think that it is not the Mac folk the Ubuntu team would like to compete with, but the Windows folk.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Windows 7 Service Pack 1 update

Microsoft have come out with their Service Pack 1 update for Windows 7 on 22nd February. Here is a screenshot of what the update is about.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Ubuntu Tweak

Ubuntu Tweak is an application to configure Ubuntu the easy way. Here is a screenshot of the welcome screen.

As you can see the screen contains five headings under which the tweaks can be done.
  1. Applications
  2. Startup
  3. Desktop
  4. Personal
  5. System
A few things I like are, (a) under Applications you have the source editor, where you can edit the sources.list directly, (b) under Startup you have Login Settings where you can change the login theme. It is just a breeze using this app.

Overall, I would save Ubuntu Tweak is a very nifty application and I would recommend it to everyone.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

NASA unveils first photographs from Comet Tempel 1 Flyby

NASA unveiled the first photos from Comet Tempel 1 flyby on 2011 Valentine's day by Stardust-NExT mission. Tempel1 was first visited back in 2005 during Deep impact mission, where a space probe was crashed into Tempel1 to basically study its composition, which as per NASA's stated mission objective was "To study the pristine interior of a comet by excavating a crater more than 25 m deep and 100 m in diameter". The following flyer gives an insight into what the previous mission was about.

 Deep Impact Fact Sheet (PDF Format - Color)

Comet Tempel1 orbits the sun once every 5-1/2 years. The objective of this mission is to study the changes in Comet's exterior since the last impact in 2005.

The photo below shows Tempel1 during the recent flyby courtesy NASA


Monday 17 January 2011

Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) Appearance

Here is how Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat) appears on my desktop PC.

The dock bar at the bottom is achieved using Awn, whilst the theme used is New Wave. I like the dock bar so much that I haven't changed the appearance of Ubuntu for some time now, except for the background. 

Saturday 15 January 2011

Solution to iPhone not being recognised in Ubuntu after upgrade to iOS 4.2.1

I was unable to connect my iPhone on Ubuntu 10.10 (also known as Maverick Meerkat) following the upgrade to iOS 4.2.1. I tried numerous solutions and none of them worked. I finally succeeded with some help from this post

Here is how to do it. Run the following commands in Terminal....
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:pmcenery/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade 

Notion Ink adam

I have followed Notion Ink adam's progress for the past year or so. adam is an electronic tablet or slate, which runs on an User Interface (UI) named Eden overlaid onto the latest Android OS (a mobile operating platform). Three years in the making, adam is ready for official release. The pre-order phase (open for a week) ended in late 2010. Notion Ink created waves during CES 2011 and adam received rave reviews by the tech bloggers. A few selected links of the tech blogger's hands-on videos:
  1. Engadget "Notion Ink adam hands-on preview (Video)" by Joanna Stern
  2. Slashgear "Notion Ink adam hands-on at CES 2011" by Chris Davies
  3. Crunchgear "Our hands-on with Notion Ink adam tablet" by John Biggs
  4. I4U "Notion Ink's Adam is for Real. I even got to play with it" by Robert Evans
There are few web blogs run by the fans of Notion Ink adam. These are;
  1. Notion Ink Fan
  2. Notion Ink Hacks
  3. Adam Tablet News
  4. Notion Addicts 
If you are interested to know more about adam's workings, there are a lot of videos on this official Notion Ink's Youtube Channel. The young CEO (aged just 25) of Notion Ink, Rohan Shravan, runs the company's official blog, which has a wide following amongst the Notion Ink fans. The blog managed 5 million hits so far, since its inception in April 2009, the highest being on 9th December 2010 (the day of the first pre-order), when it reached a peak of 310,000 hits.

The orders are likely to be open shortly and for those who are looking for a new electronic tablet/slate, which is competitively priced and has got all the features one expects on a tablet, look no further.

Here is the promo video of adam....

Adam Promo from Notion Ink on Vimeo.