Monday, December 7, 2009

Nailed Browser Performance Issue

I may have finally nailed a performance issue that I have been having with FireFox for a while now. I keep updating and hoping that it will go way. While I am using the browser, it stops responding for a second or two periodically. When the system is really loaded, it gets even worse. I spent some time lurking around the web looking for solutions. I have tried disabling some things. I have tried lots of stuff. Today, I was getting even more frustrated and tried searching again. In the past, I was running into trouble with the Google toolbar's start screen. It turns out that there is, or at least was, a bug where the SQLite DB would grow and grow. The system would keep updating it. As the DB grew, your profile would get huge and each update would take longer and longer. My TimeMachine backups were huge. I would have 250MB of changes in seconds. If I ran a backup and then immediately ran another backup, whammo 250MB. I decided to find out what was being backed up during that period of time. I found and tried Grand Central. Grand Central provides a view of the file system based on disk usage. Files are graphically displayed sized in proportion to their size on disk. Once the system spent a little while churning on the disks, I could see what file was taking up most of the 250MB. There were many many large blocks that included places.sqlite I believe. Googling for this resulted in a description of the FireFox slowdown I was having, along with an easy fix (download the SQLLite manager and truncate the right table). I have also turned off the Google start page which avoids the problem all together.

Today, I was getting more and more annoyed with my current slowdown. It is not as bad as the other one (30 seconds of beach ball of death, 5 seconds of work, rinse and repeat). I have noticed that the system writes and reads from the disk quite a lot but I have not been sure what it is doing. LSOF is a difficult way to catch something that transient. The new slowdown is a fraction of a second complete pause in FF. Depending on system load and CPU it might be more or less often or slightly longer. I actually thought it was Flash missbehaving at first. Anyways, in today's search for FF pauses, I found a website for an ISV: They talk about pauses and mention monitoring the file system with fs_usage several pages down. I tried this and was flooded with file system messages.
sudo fs_usage -f filesys

Lots and lots of messages. FF was one of the major contributors. I piped the output to a file and tried using tail in another shell to monitor the disk activity.
sudo fs_usage -w -f filesys > biglog.txt

tail -f biglog.txt

Unfortunately, tail was causing a flood of messages of its own. Way more than the actual traffic. Without tail, it was hard to figure out what was happening. The biglog file was 150MB and many of the commands and filenames were chopped. I tweaked the parameters to fix that '-w' and hone in on FF.
sudo fs_usage -w -f filesys firefox-bin > biglog2.txt

Now I have a list of just FF is doing. I started using the program, waited for the hiccup, and immediately hit ctrl-c in the shell window. The log contained lots and lots of line items. Lots of seeks, truncates, ... There was only one file name mentioned however:
es/Firefox/Profiles/23oitqok.default/Google Gears for Firefox/permissions.db-journal

I quickly disabled the add-on and restarted FF. Once restarted FF no longer exhibits the issue that I was seeing before. While writing this article, I looked on my disk for the file. I wanted to see how big the file is/was. I could not located it. I also could not locate it on the backup. After finding the documentation for the Gears API, I was able to locate the files. Thanks to Google for documenting all of the file locations for every OS and browser combination. All of the files are small. I am not sure why the journal would be big, but it is gone now. I don't know how big it was and I cannot find the file in TimeMachine.

On a positive note, my system has not had a single hiccup since I disabled the add-on. I can live with a slight mystery without the odd pauses. Also, during my search for the file I could not locate, I was performing find commands over large portions of my HDD, specifically:
find . -name "permissions.db-journal"

This reasonable amount of disk activity did not cause the browser to hiccup at all. I am impressed, I thought the system was very susceptible to HDD activity based delays. It might have been only HDD activity was slowing down the blocking HDD activity the browser was trying to get done.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I have to question their diligence

Product labeling is often quite excessive. Here is an example that surprised me. I am used to keep away from children, not a toy, ...

Although, to be honest, I hope they did not test this with children of all ages.

If you have ever had a really frustrating day at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium with inconsolable kids, you might appreciate this trash can.

That being said, I definitely support hospitals and fire stations as a much better option.

In the news, Michael Jackson was called a pervert by a congressmen:

Who later on, on the same page, was found to be somebody else, and have unfortunately, died. Talk about swift retribution:

I was rather impressed with the effort that Costco went through to post multiple kinds of trash, recycling, and compost bins throughout the local stores. Go Costco!!! I was rather surprised to see the plastic lid from a cup to be included in the trash picture.

A quick check verified that you can see the recycling symbol in the picture and they use recyclable cup lids. Not sure why it is called "Non-recyclable plastic".

One of the latest "Free" offers from Fry's. You have to love the up-front nature. Free phone service, just pay us...

- spell checkers should definitely work on titles.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stand Up For What You Believe In

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I had a group of friends that I used to hang out with. We spent a lot of time together and did tons of stuff. One of the guys was really big, moved a little slow, had asthma, had epilepsy, and used to threaten me all the time. That was kind of his shtick. He never hurt me in any way. He just used to threaten me. I never thought that he would hurt me, but it was still a bit unnerving. In fact, it frequently kept me on edge.

One day, we were driving off to go somewhere. I am not sure what we were talking about but the phrase "kick your a**" came out of his mouth. I yelled to my friend to stop the car, said I was sick of it, and got out. After realizing that I was serious, and done, many apologies quickly ensued. True to his word, he never threatened me again. Not only did he not threaten me again, we actually started talking. We had some very interesting conversations while the others were occupied with other things. I am not saying that they were terribly deep. We did not cure cancer, but we were way past the weather. Have you ever had that feeling that you have really connected with someone. It actually does not take too much, IMHO. You just have to start a dialog on something real, not something trivial or banal. This does not happen as often as one tends to think. When was the last time that you actually sat down and talked with your spouse? What have you either not been honest about or not been upfront about? (more on this topic later). What would happen if you made the time to actually talk.

Through the months and years that followed, we actually looked forward to our time together as a chance to talk. We never spoke about the talking directly, we just hopped into things anytime we were near each other. I had not realized how much he also enjoyed our conversations. You are probably asking, "What is this, some kind of feel good blog entry?" I am glad you asked. We were boys. We were teenage boys. We were in fact, several teenage boys. What do you think happens when we get together? What do you think happens when subsets get together? Well, naturally there is some teasing. As you can imaging, the large asthmatic epileptic person was teased a bit too. I even initiated some of it. He was proud of his heritage and would frequently say that he was "half Mexican." One day, when we sat down, I told him that they knew he was coming. "Why?" he asked. Because they put half and half on the table. I tended to restrict myself to things that people were comfortable about so that they would not get hurt by the teasing. I assume that joke did no lasting damage. The others tended to tease a little bit more than that. Jokes about his intelligence and seizures (which I never witnessed) were rampant. I am ashamed to say, that I went along with the flow. I even pretended to be entertained. The jokes were pitiful and tired. But I did not stand up for our friend and worse, by pretending to be entertained I was reinforcing them. I would pay for these mistakes later.

One day, I heard from one of our mutual "friend" a little story. It turns out that B mentioned that he missed our conversations together and that he looked forward to them. Given that those conversations were only between he and I, I think a little jealousy might have come to the fore. Our mutual friend, whose friendship spanned a few decades, decided to say that I made fun of B. That I laughed at his illness and his thinking that he was intelligent and at our conversations.

This would be the last conversation that I would have with our mutual "friend." He took something so beautiful which was found in such an unlikely place. A space for calm, reflection, peace, and comfort. Never mind the fact that B was a teenage boy that had some things stacked against him to begin with, and rip B apart in such a way was one of the most offensive things I have ever heard of. He laughed when he told me. This time, I did not pretend to be amused but I feel the damage was already done.

B.R. I am sorry. I miss our conversations. They were some of the best ones of my middle school and high school years. I hope you can forgive me for going along and not sticking up for you. I hope you have come to realize that I really cared about you and value our conversations for what they truly were.

Stand up for what you believe in today. You may not be there tomorrow. They may not be there tomorrow. Windows close all of the time. If you have the chance, let them know that you care. Tell them the truth. Don't be afraid to have beliefs, feelings, likes, and dislikes. Everybody does, they just don't stand up and talk about it.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blurry Kindle in the Sun

Many of you know that I love my Kindle. It is like a small lapdog. I am carrying it everywhere and it occasionally draws attention to itself. I have run into some issues where the Kindle has rendered poorly though. It reminds me most of when an ink jet printer is running out of ink or has clogged heads and the text is really faint and grainy. Now, for an ink jet printer, I can understand this. For eInk, I am a little confused.

When the symptoms would happen, I would flip pages backwards and forwards for a while trying to clear out whatever it was that was making the image blurry. It usually cleared up in a few flips of the page and I would go back to reading. Sometimes, I would read it while it was still blurry because it was being particularly resistant to clearing up.

This issue nagged and nagged at me. I don't like to leave problems without finding a reasonable cause for why they happen. In the software world, I have found that if something breaks once, it will break again. Typically, it will break in the same way at multiple locations around the world almost simultaneously. Ignore software problems at your own peril. Since I could not reliably reproduce the problem or make it go away, I figured there was some issue that was affecting its performance. I considered several factors: ambient temperature, duration of use, speed of flipping pages, ... I started to pay far more attention to the problem when it occurred and looked for patterns.

I noticed a few patterns right away. The problem was not consistent throughout the screen. Any part of the screen could be affected. Usually a large portion of the screen or the whole screen was affected at one time. I was frequently on the move (either walking, in my car, waiting in line, ...). While this made me even more suspicious about ambient temperature, I noticed that cold or hot days did not make a difference. One day, I was holding the device in a way that covered part of the screen, flipped the page, and figured out the pattern.

The portion of the screen that I was covering was bright and vibrant and the rest was affected by this issue. I quickly determined that it was UV rays that were affecting the image. My Kindle is sun sensitive. Now, I am sun sensitive and this would explain why the Kindle would only act up when I was on the move. Most of the time, I was either out of the sun or behind UV protected glass. For this blog entry, I took a few moments with my car parked out in the sun and took some candid shots of my Kindle. (I hope it has a nice modeling career ahead of it).

I started out with rendering a page on my Kindle inside my car (UV protection in the glass). You will notice that the Kindle image is very sharp and quite easy to see even in the direct sunlight on a bright California afternoon.

I then, without moving the Kindle, advanced to the next page. The difference is pretty striking:

You can see how blurry the kindle is. How much of the text is completely missing and you cannot read much of the page. After that, I thought about a few ways that I might convince and/or show people that this was indeed the issue. One bad render could easily be caused by a temperature difference. A temperature difference could be caused by say, pulling the Kindle out of a car and putting it on the hood on a nice bright California afternoon. While the Kindle surface is a little bit small for this exercise, I tried a few attempts at making patterns on the screen by shading it with my hand. In order to have sharper lines on the display, I placed my hand directly on the device while I flipped pages. Here are two different patterns with before and after shots. Look near where the edge of my hand was and see how big the difference is between the shaded portion and the non-shaded portion.

As a final experiment, and more detailed pattern, I decided to stack some coins on the corner of the Kindle. My Prius hood is a little too steep for them to sit in the middle, so I stacked them up in the corner of the screen. Unfortunately, 2 pennies would not have been a very good example image, or I would have shown you my $0.02.

You can see the influence of the coins, but the pattern is a little blurry. Some of the coin edges are visible but they are not too crisp.

Going back to just before posting this entry:

Read in Sunlight with No Glare

Kindle's screen reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlighting, eliminating the glare associated with other electronic displays. As a result, Kindle can be read as easily in bright sunlight as in your living room.

I have to say, the Kindle does not quite live up to the advertising in this case. It does have glare, it is not bad, but it is there. Also, while you can read amazingly well in bright sunlight, you cannot read after turning the page. I turn lots of pages.

I have tried this on at least two kindles (one original, one Kindle 2) and have seen a consistent issue. I have to say, for a device that is dedicated to reading, not being able to read in the sun is a little disconcerting. I think an inexpensive UV filter over the screen would both protect it and prevent this from being an issue.

[No Kindles were harmed in any way in the making of this blog post.]

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Passionate Programmer

I just finished reading "The Passionate Programmer" by Chad Fowler (no, not related). I really enjoyed the book. It had a short topic driven style which presented ideas in bite sized chunks. I enjoy this style of book because it is easy to pick up for a few minutes at a time if that is all the time you have. It also keeps you reading with engaging topics and the promise of the conclusion of an idea just a few pages away.

While this book is targeted at people early in their careers and people considering careers in computer science, it also has some nice tidbits for those of us already well ahead in our careers.

One of my favorite passages rewrote the common "teach a man to fish" parable:
For us software developer, Lao Tzu's intent might be equally well served with "Ask for a fish; eat for a day. Ask someone to teach you to fish; eat for a lifetime." Better yet, don't ask to be taught--go learn for yourself.
Well said. Always go learn for yourself. This makes sense in public school and later in life. It is not about what you are taught. It is about what you learn. What you take away is far more important than what was presented. Somehow, I feel that in this age of entitlement, we have lost sight of that.

There is also a section on mindfulness. It resonates with sometime that I have found in my own life. It does not matter how mundane the task, it matters how you perform the task. If you are frustrated at having to enhance the code coverage of the unit tests, you are going to move slowly and dread the process and memory. If you are challenged to increase the coverage of the unit tests in the most efficient way possible, you might actually look forward to the challenge. Try to look forward to the challenge as much as possible, it is a small change, but it makes the process the adventure rather than something to be endured. We all deserve a little more adventure.

Check it out.


Friday, August 7, 2009

He Said Hello...

I have been living in the same neighborhood for almost 10 years now. One of my neighbors has a son that is Autistic. When we first moved in he had a very difficult time with social interaction. Recently he has moved to a facility where they have experts at dealing with his condition and helping them be more successful. He has started to interact a little more naturally.

I have been a little unsure of how to act around him. He has many of the common signs of someone that is very autistic and I am not sure what he likes and what scares him. He is about 6 foot 5 and very strong. One of the things he enjoys doing is helping with the gardening. He likes to weed. After he gets going though, small trees occasionally fall into the category of things that need to be uprooted and moved.

I have always tried to reach out to him when he is around and engage him a little bit in a non-threatening way. I don't try to push into his territory or force him into a situation where he has to respond. About a week or two ago, I was out in front of my house and they were getting back from walking the dogs. I said hello to his mother and said hello to him by name. He actually met my gaze and said hello back. I was completely stunned. This is the first time that I think he has responded to me in such a casual way. He was not prompted with specific verbal instructions to say hello. I have read a little bit since then and I think part of it might have been the fact that I was respectful, want to engage him, and did not put much weight on getting a response. I was saying hello because I valued him and he was comfortable to return the gesture or not without being judged.

He still has some very noticeable physical characteristics and mannerisms. I think many people would judge him for those. He is another example where "Body does not equal mind". He is huge (very tall and thin), imposing, and has darker features. The net out is that he looks kind of brooding and almost furious to me. I don't think he can control this easily. On the inside he is actually really sweet, gentle, and considerate. In 10 years, I have never seen him do anything that was riskier to people than something where he might not have realized that someone outside of his vision might be in the direction he was pulling something. This is a very common occurrence.

It has given me great pleasure to see him slowly improving his ability to communicate with the world and interact. We are gaining a wonderful person in our community.

M. Thank you for saying hello!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Silence in the Cave

I was reading a book about compartmentalizing and organizing information. They mentioned that a Buddhist mantra was much harder to organize than something far more concrete and mundane. They specifically mentioned "Om". Yes, I know, not that big of a deal, but it brought back some memories. Now that I am raising kids, I find myself looking back through the years to see how I perceived things when I was younger. Some of my fondest memories are adventures with my brother and father and Nina. In one particular adventure, we were hunting down cave sites. Have you ever been way deep inside of a cave? Have you ever turned off the lights and just took a moment to breathe? It is a truly amazing experience. I did not quite appreciate it then, being only a few years old. Now, with the constant din of electronics, the background demands of work, clients, and raising children it is hard to get that quiet. Sometimes I find myself going back.

On another adventure, we went scuba diving in Hawaii. This was some of the most amazing water and fish in the world. At one point we were able to swim in the deep blue sea with a pod of whales. Try and put yourself into my shoes. Here I am, a teenager. I am swimming in the ocean miles off shore. The water is pristine and blue. There is no bottom. There is no land. I take a mask and snorkel and hop into the water. I dive down about 30 feet. Looking up, there is just enough substance to the water to get that beautiful shimmery effect like when the sun is just shooting rays down through the clouds. The surface of the water is disappointing, it looks to be only about 5 feet away. A bull whale comes over to decide if I am a threat to the pod. The pod consists of tens of pilot whales from the bull down to pups tucked into their mother's side for help swimming. I cannot tell how many whales there are. The further I look in the distance and the more my eyes adjust, the more whales I am able to see.

The bull approaches. He gets to about 20 feet from me and cruises up putting his eye on level with mine. Let me tell you, you notice when something the size of a small moving truck sidles on up to you to check to see if you are a threat to his kids. Thankfully, I was not. He then surfaced and continued to surface for a while. My impression was that he was confused about why I was only able to hold my breath for a minute or so at a time. After he surfaced, I decided to surface again. That 30 or so feet, that looked like 5, took a while to cover.

I am in the deep blue sea, floating at a near perfect temperature, with little sound, and a huge family of beautiful whales serenely gliding by. When I put myself back into that memory I can feel it all over again.

Where is your cave? Where are your whales? How often do you put yourself back there and remember them? How often do you relive the joy and wonder?

All too frequently, we spend time rehashing things that did not go right, or that we think could have gone better. We need to remember to be human and enjoy that times that make us feel good as well. Those times recharge us and inspire us to greatness.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Does Microsoft Have Another Monopoly?

I was just playing around with a mobile platform. It contained a nice little OS. The OS came with the vendor's browser pre-installed in a premier location. The OS is a bit restricted, you can only legally install applications that have been through a vetting process by the OS vendor. The OS vendor will not allow a browser to be added and sold.

This feels worse than the old days. Back when Microsoft was claiming that IE was a required component and could not be removed. This is the equivalent of saying that IE is a required component and not only can it not be removed, no other browsers are ever allowed to be installed.

Now, if I recall correctly, MSFT is still being pummeled for that move. Now on to the potentially obvious. I am not talking about a new MSFT monopoly in this post. The Vendor is Apple and the device is the iPhone. They reject applications that compete with built in applications including ones provided by the same vendor. Google's Voice application which does shocking things like make SMS messages free and forward phone calls. I figure since the SMS messages have a nice little space carved out in the control packets for the cell phone's signal, making them free actually makes a lot of sense. That does not stop me from paying somethink like $35/month for SMS messages that I barely use.

Given that the platform is completely flexible, and the browser is just another component, what is the reason for not allowing for substitutions? Applications that I right can be made to handle links automatically. Apple could reassign http:// to another application. I found myself thinking about this today when I went to find the web browser and could not. I was looking for FireFox and I blew right past that Safari icon.

Do you think they are going to have to pay for this? In today's economy, you have to out innovate for your business, not restrict. Exclusive deals with exclusive contracts and exclusive content are no longer the rage.


Body Does Not Equal Mind

A couple of days ago, I had a wonderful conversation in downtown Sunnyvale. I was hanging out with my son and had just wrapped up a conversation with a gentleman outside of a coffee shop. As I turned to continue back up the street, I noticed a woman in an electric wheelchair. I am not sure what condition she had, but she was very physically impaired. It appeared that she did not have the use of either leg and had lost the primary use of one of her arms. Now, she happened to be parked sideways, blocking the sidewalk. The last thing that I wanted to do was to add another burden to her by asking her politely to scoot to one side, or just by my presence, cause her to move. Austin and I made a quick foray out into the road to bypass that section of sidewalk.

It turns out that she had noticed me. When I came back onto the sidewalk she was already heading in our direction and made a polite comment about Austin. We turned and stopped to say hi. Now, I have long held that body does not equal mind. What I mean by this is that you cannot tell by a person's body what their mind is like and a damaged or pristine body do not tell you if the mind inside is damaged or pristine.

As one might imagine, this woman was one person that has been dealing with the opposite assumption for most of her life. Many people have written her off because of the fact that her body was not typical. They would look at her and immediately dismiss her as unintelligent purely based on her outward appearance. This is truly a tragedy. Not only have they missed out on a chance to interact with this exceptional individual, they have tended to short change her in the process. It is bad enough that many people are not interested in interacting with her due to her physical issues, people are dismissing her intelligence, put her in classes for the mentally impaired, and would not let her into their clubs and cliques.

On the flip side, this was a great opportunity for me to talk with someone in her condition about some of the things that I was unsure about. For instance, I tend to like offering help and opening doors for people in wheelchairs. I have run into a few occasions where people were offended at the offer. When I offer you help, I am not saying that you are not capable, just that I would like to travel beside you for a few steps or that I am trying to offer you a leg up. I am not trying to take your power or sneer at you in any way.

I believe that she spent more time struggling with being discounted mentally due to her physical situation and/or ignored. People would look at her and automatically assume she was not intelligent. This is a true tragedy. She is a very interesting person.

One story that she alluded to which completely shocked me initially took the form of a simple sentence. She mentioned that before she joined the coast guard, people acted as though she was invisible. Blink. I had not imagined the coast guard as a potential job for her (judging wrongly on physical appearance) and had not imagined that it would make a difference in how people interact with her in her day to day life. I think two factors contributed to the latter. I am sure that she was more confident for her interactions in the coast guard. She also had stickers on her chair that mentioned her affiliations. I am glad that she has found a way out. I told her that she should get a sticker that throws the body does not equal mind disparity in people's faces (preferably in a friendly way). I was thinking along the lines of "My mind is the same as yours". "Stephen Hawking: Nuff Said".

The next time you see someone that is confined to a wheelchair, or possibly their own head, remember: They are a person like me, they have similar desires to me, what would I like if I were in their shoes.

Ironically, the most distracting part of talking with her was the fact that she had experienced so much pain by being marginalized. WE have hurt her. She started out with less than us and WE hurt her. I am sorry for that S. Hopefully WE are sorry as well.

On a mildly related note, I have found that many people are hesitant to accept help. One of my friends, and a wonderful gentleman, Rob Lackey has been in California for several years. Last week was the first time that he was allowed to assist an older person to carry their groceries onto the bus. This simple story is an excellent anecdote for several things. Rob is the kind of person that will offer to assist people carrying their groceries. YAY! Rob is the kind of person that will keep on trying to offer to assist people with their groceries for years in the face of unwarranted rejection of said offers. Yay x 2! Our society has somehow gotten to the point where it is not easy to accept such offers for help. This last point is a bit depressing for me. There was a time where all of our houses were built by a community coming together. Now, if I see you carrying something heavy, it is somehow bad if I help? Why is that? Are we that afraid/insecure/independent that we can no longer work together?

When I want to hold the door open for people at a Starbucks for instance, I have found that offering does not go over well. What I have adapted to do, is walk a little bit faster and effectively cut in front of the other person. Then, when I get to the door, I pull it open, stand aside, and wave them in. Most people are quite surprised and appreciative. Some people still act suspicious. What kind of advantage or malicious intent could inspire someone to open the door for you?

If you see me cutting in front of you, I am either in a desperate hurry, or trying to help you. Judge people by what they want to do or try to do, not by what they look like. Body does not equal mind. Also, please follow Rob's example. If you offer help and are rudely rejected, continue to offer help. Some people may not be interested, some people may have been hurt, some people may feel threatened or slighted. Please offer with good intentions and do not give up.

Please offer and accept help, we can do much more together than we are capable of doing alone.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Good or Evil?

I know, I know, debating the merits of light bulbs may be a slightly unusual hobby. Bear with me for a bit. It turns out that I heard a rumor a few weeks ago. The rumor was that there was something about the way that the new Compact Florescent (CF) bulbs drew power from the power lines "saved energy" at the expense of the power company. Supposedly the power company was not measuring the true power that was being consumed behind the meter, but was instead using an approximation. The way that the CF bulbs worked was supposed to, intentionally or not, be out of phase and therefore have a larger power usage than the meter would be able to measure and charge for.

I have been a fan of green technologies for quite some time now. I have been paying a premium to have "Pure Green" power piped into my house for the past 9 years and have changed almost all of the bulbs in the house to be CF. Hearing that they might be consuming more power than was apparent was an issue for me.

Digging a little bit more, I still do not have the answer. Or, it might be more accurate to say that I have several answers, they are unfortunately neither definitive nor consistent. Before we get into what I have discovered to date, let's quickly review some terms:
  • Real Power - The power the device actually consumes.
  • Apparent Power - How much power the devices appear to use.
  • Reactive Power - The power that is not in phase and creates magnetic fields.
  • Power Factor - The efficiency of the device. What portion of the power consumed is used for powering the device.
  • Billing Based on - power used, not KWH.
  • KWH consumed - not apparent KWH consumed
Here is some of what I have uncovered:

CF bulbs were designed to have us be overcharged describes the situation as a plot to gain money for the power companies. The power companies supposedly charge for apparent power consumed, instead of actual power consumed. They intentionally lie to us to get us to think they are charging us for kwh when they are not. Devices like CF bulbs, compressors, and AC motors cause us to rack up higher kwh than we should be racking up.

Now, interestingly, I agree with this point, if you measure true kwh of the device, it will be lower (based on the power factor) than what the power company will actually bill you. Where I make a distinction is why this is the case. Based on my discussions with Silicon Valley Power (my local utility), the power factor is basically a measure of efficiency in the device. The closer the power factor is to 1.0 the more efficient the device is at translating power used into work performed. CF bulbs, according to some of the articles, are sitting around a PF of 0.5 which means that they are only successfully transferring about 1/2 of the power that goes into the device into light. Now, where does the rest of that power go? Some goes to heat, most goes to expanding and collapsing a magnetic field of alternating polarity 120 times per second. The power is at 60 cycles per second in the US with one up and one down phase per cycle. We are actually consuming the power that is creating the magnetic field. Since it is reactive power, it does not show up in kwh on simple meters.

It is rather expensive to measure the kwh and reactive power. It requires two highly accurate meters if it is being used for billing purposes. These might be large and would be expensive. What the power company does is accurately measure one quantity, amperage. Measuring the amperage that is flowing into your home and knowing the voltage at the source gives you the true power that is used by the system. While it does not provide you with a breakdown of what is going on inside your home, telling you how much reactive power is used, for example, it can give you a very good metering of how much is actually being consumed by your home. Once they know the amperage, they use the voltage to convert the power to the equivalent kwh of your house. You are then billed.

I understand the value of having a resonant circuit when discussing devices. When circuits operate at their resonant values, you end up with a much more efficient device that uses less power to perform the same operation. I am not sure if modifying the power factor by adding a capacitor (as the Atlantic Free Press article stipulates) would actually decrease the amount of power used by the device. If this is true, then the device manufacturers should be "approached aggressively" about the issue. They are saving pennies and wasting thousands of dollars of electricity. My suspicion is that there is some inefficiency that would be corrected but the primary issue is actually one of measurement and not one of actual loss.

I think I may need to purchase one of the mentioned meters and give a few tests a spin. I happen to have a nice little AC motor here that I can experiment with.

An excellent explanation of CF bulbs is on Wikipedia. A similar article on Power Factor is available.

I have also found an article that goes into some details about how the roll out of CFLs was not done well. Depending on how they are used and their environment they will either perform well or very poorly. I found this out when I installed CFLs in my outdoor motion detector. On cold nights or mornings, it would take minutes to light up, or possibly not light up at all.

Personally, my house is filled with these lights. I have found they do dim a little over use, they do not last as long as they are supposed to last when place in ceiling can lights, and they tend to hum when they get old. I like the quality of the light they provide and appreciate the energy savings. I have a few LED lights and enjoy them, but they are so far too expensive to look into using in the rest of the house. I look forward to the days of cheap organic LED lights that allow for dimming.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What does a trillion dollars look like?

I am not sure where I picked this up. This is a really good way to visualize What does a Trillion Dollars Look Like. It also covers smaller denominations. Can a million dollars really fit into a paper bag? I have to say, I am more tempted than ever to start collecting small 1/2 inch stacks of $100 bills.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Apple Installation Program

How many people have installed software on their Mac only to be immediately prompted by a dialog saying that the package contains software to determine if the program will run on that system? Why do we have to agree to this? What is it actually doing? Seriously, when installation programs do not contain software to determine if it can run on my system I get upset. Those should have the dialog boxes. Does anybody know the reason?


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Amazon Kindle Feedback to Amazon


If your read this blog, you know that I am a big fan of your products. I am an early adopter of the Kindle and an earlier adopter of the Kindle 2. I have purchased them for some family members. I have a young blog, but looking at my traffic patterns, it looks like my article on how to zoom in on the Kindle is creating a large percentage of my traffic.

If there is a product manager out there from Amazon reading this, please improve the Zoom functionality and make it easier to find.

To those of you that are here reading about Amazon Kindle Zoom, thank you for stopping by. What else would you like to know about? Any thing else I can help with?


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Playing with Cards and Wii Remotes

Here is another example of engaging your audience. Topps has added a 3D effect to their cards. No, this is not a cheesy effect where you tilt the card from side to side to show or hide the player's smile. They came up with an idea that I have actually been toying around with. You hold their product (in this case a baseball card) up in front of your web camera. In the video on screen, you can see a wonderful 3D representation of the player above the card. You can rotate it anyway you want and you can even play simple games with it. I recommend watching the video to really get it. It kinds of reminds me of the little projection that R2D2 was spitting out in Star Wars.

Speaking of cool projections, there was as TED talk recently that I thought was very innovative. Johnny Lee created some very impressive tech out of Wii remotes and some software. He open sourced the software. This is quite an innovative use for the infrared camera on the end of the controller. I highly recommend making it to the end. Also, there is a high definition version online as well.


How to Engage Your Audience

I have been thinking about how to have fun with your audience. I believe that if you have a tasteful level of playfulness in your product or service, people will not only have a more fun and pleasurable experience using it, they will tell others. You really want people to be saying, "Hey, I noticed this cool thing the other day...". Since I have been on this kick, wondering why people have not been doing this effectively, I have been more attuned to what is around me. I have noticed a few products that have stood out for their excellence. While there are a ton of products that I love, respect, and use constantly, a few of them are detailed here:

Amazon Kindle, Amazon Kindle 2, Amazon Kindle Reader on iPhone, and Whisper Sync

I have been talking about the Kindle for quite some time. I love gadgets. I could not resist running out and buying one with overnight delivery on the first day. :) I have had mine for about 15 days now. I love it. One of the greatest joys was the software update the Amazon pushed out to all Kindles right before they shipped. It added many really handy menu items throughout the product. For instance, you can now delete a book while you are reading the book. You no longer have to go back to home, then the content manager, then find your book, then select your book, then open the menu and pick delete. It is now: open the menu, pick delete. All of your notes, bookmarks, and the book (if purchased) are already backed up at Amazon anyways. In fact, during the upgrade, all of the books started out in the cloud. The Kindle2 was automatically configured with my account information. I just opened archives, picked the book I was reading and selected download, and resumed reading. This is the kind of experience that I was looking for from Amazon. They have gone much further. With their recent release of the iPhone application, I can now read a book on the kindle, leave it at home, stop somewhere and open my iPhone Kindle reader application. It asks me if I would like to sync to the last page read. I say yes and continue reading. The format has high enough resolution that I do not mind it at all. In fact, I would say that I read about half of Buyology on the iPhone. That was quite a surprise to me. When you go back to the Kindle, you can tell it to sync to the last page read and it will update. If you have a delay between switching devices, it will likely already have the new location stored and will just prompt you with a message like: Last page read on Jacob's iPhone was 186. Would you like to sync to this location? Love it. Thank you Amazon. There are still a few small kinks to work out, but even though I am in for ~$1000 so far, I am a happy customer (2 partial gift kindles, 2 kindles).

Oral-B toothbrush

I know, you are thinking, "Great, now he is going to talk about toothbrushes?" Don't worry. I promise it will not be that bad. I upgraded to the most recent version of the Oral-B Toothbrush. The little flapping things that clean between your teeth really worked hard to rip my gums off. I have switched back to the old style head on the new handles. That feature was definitely a FAIL. Sorry Oral-B. There are a few features that I liked. First, I liked the fact that the charger does not have any exposed wires or power. It uses inductive coupling to charge. Nice and safe. They have a wireless remote control. Yes, I know, it seems like tech for the sake of tech. So I powered this thing up (and yes, the toothbrush has and airplane mode. snicker) and mostly ignored it. About a week ago, I was busy thinking about how to be playful with customers, had just finished brushing, looked over, and noticed the display contained a large happy face. I was bowled over. Functional, clean teeth, and a smile. Points to Oral-B

Panasonic Packaging

A few months ago, I purchased a new phone system. I have been using Panasonic cordless phones for a while now. Unfortunately, my really snazzy high speed wi-fi network at home was not so snazzy during phone calls. It was obviously time to upgrade my phones to an even higher speed. :) I purchased the new Panasonic cordless phone system and kept it on my desk for a while. I was lamenting the process of unwrapping, cutting tape, twisting wire, slicing plastic, ... that is entailed in getting new electronics open. I was completely shocked. I pulled hard on the case and it just popped open. All of the components were recyclable and trivial to separate. They were held in by folds, placement, and friction. It was like the marriage of product wrapping and origami. I had quickly pulled everything out, separated all of the recycling, and was ready to install my new phones. Thank you for the innovative packaging Panasonic.

Apple iPhone

Apple has once again pleasantly surprised me with their products and customer service. I was in a hurry a few weeks ago and managed to bump my iPhone's hip holster. My iPhone flew out, pulverized the corner of the crystal and managed to slide about 20 ft across the parking lot. Needless to say, the iPhone that had not had a scratch to date, was now not quite so pristine. I called the local Apple store and made an appointment to see what the damage was. About an hour later, I went in and showed them the phone. There was a small part that had broken previously but I managed to bend it back into place so it was not a real inconvenience. When I pointed out the break to the Apple Genius he immediately replaced it with a new phone and wiped the old one. Thank you Apple. I love a company that stands behind their products.

I have a new book coming out soon. It has nothing to do with anything I blog about, but is instead written with a bunch of colleagues and discusses how to lead engineering in the Silicon Valley and how to work with people that do. Keep your eyes peeled for it.


Buyology, Purchasing Habits of Humans

I just finished an interesting book: Buyology.

Good reading. It dissects the effect that commercials and kinds of advertising has on us. For American Idol, for instance, three companies each spend ~24 million a year to be the sponsors. Coke has their color in the "green" room and hallway, curved chairs, the judges drinking Coke during the show, and the occasional comment about the product, not to mention the ads. Cingular/ATT support the only phones that you can vote from and are constantly referenced for voting and have ad. Ford, pays the same amount and only has ads. Cingular/ATT does good. Coke does phenomenally. They do so well, that they crush the others. Ford is paying to be forgotten in the glory that is Coke advertising. Ouch. ~$24 million to be so completely overshadowed that people cannot even recall you as a sponsor if they are asked.

I have found myself reading more and more about the marketing space. I am building quite a passion for how to turn your customers and/or prospects and/or users into evangalists. What makes someone stick with your product or service? What does it take to get them to leave? Why are they leaving? How much is it worth to keep them? I have also been spending a lot of time thinking about the best ways to monitor, track, filter, and process the inbound lead flow that many companies are understaffed to handle. It is the critical lifeblood of many organizations but I feel, it is woefully misunderstood and undervalued.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quantum Teleportation Discovered, Er sort of...

Great news announced on LiveScience...

Teleportation Milestone Achieved

They just seem to have forgotten a few things. As far as I know, teleportation would actually require transmission of sufficient information needed to recreate and object in all ways that matter. If the object is a block of lead, you expect a similarly constructed block of lead. If the object is a single bit of information, I expect that exact same bit of information to arrive on the other end.
"But because ion A's state is irreversibly tied to ion B's, the measurement also forces B into the complementary state. Depending on which state ion A is found in, the researchers now know precisely what kind of microwave pulse to apply to ion B in order to recover the exact information that had been written to ion A by the original microwave burst. Doing so results in the accurate teleportation of the information."
By my reading, this section basically says, they look at the data, and determine based on the results what needs to happen on the other side. They then use this information on the other side. That implies that the data cannot be "transmitted or teleported" to the other side without having some other data sent as well. I could do this as well. I will give you an on bit on a piece of paper. Then, I will call you later and tell you if you should flip that bit or not. I look at my piece of paper, and then have you flip or not flip to match. If this could happen without outside information being passed, it would be astounding. Then our two pieces of paper would be linked. With the outside information, it seems a bit less of an advancement.
"What distinguishes this outcome as teleportation, rather than any other form of communication, is that no information pertaining to the original memory actually passes between ion A and ion B. Instead, the information disappears when ion A is measured and reappears when the microwave pulse is applied to ion B."
I am not sure if this is true. Based on the description, I could recreate a lot of the "value" of the experiment with a pen and a lighter. I read the value of A and store the instructions of whether or not to write on B. I then burn A. Now, I transfer those instructions to the other side, and follow them. Now B, either has a mark or not. Now granted, Quantum states are not the same as actual bits, since they support superpositions. Maybe that is the important difference. They also don't mention the complexity of the laser information that needs to be passed. Back to the article:
""One particularly attractive aspect of our method is that it combines the unique advantages of both photons and atoms," says Monroe. "Photons are ideal for transferring information fast over long distances, whereas atoms offer a valuable medium for long-lived quantum memory ... Also, the teleportation of quantum information in this way could form the basis of a new type of quantum internet that could outperform any conventional type of classical network for certain tasks.""
I am not sure how this system could "outperform any conventional type of classical network". What is a conventional type of classical network? Anyways, how can it outperform a conventional network unless it somehow gets around the fact that data must be transmitted between the two sites of entangled ions? If you need to send data across the wire to "retrieve" the information on the other side, unless that data is very small compared to the payload, it should not be able to outperform much of anything. When you need to take many tries to entangle ions before you can use them, and then end up with a 90% success rate, possibly without the ability to verify the result, it seems like it might not be that much of an advance.

One thing I liked about this paper was the way it described a very simple process for entangling similar ions from a distance. That, if it really works, is very cool and would help extend work in the quantum field.

I love the topic, I love the research, but I am looking for more.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Look at the New Amazon Kindle

I am still quite hopeful that a new version of the Kindle will be announced on Monday. Amazon's press conference still does not have details of what it is about (that I am aware of).

Here is an article by Zack talking about the new Kindle Announcement Rumors.

There are more shots of the new Kindle out there. Is it me or does the Kindle 2.0 look a bit like the original iPhone?

I have had other readers recommended. Stanza seems to be getting some serious traction. I have been testing out the Masterpieces Collection reader by Marco Tabini. The quality and UI seem great, but I still cannot bring myself to read on such a small and glossy form factor. The text is clean and sharp, but the things is so reflective I find my eyes get tired quickly. I will keep experimenting. Meanwhile, I am tearing through books on and off the Kindle.

I wish I had one of the new Kindles in my hands. Amazon, want a review?


Monday, February 2, 2009

Why don't hospitals have nice break areas?

I frequently have the pleasure of taking my daughter to or from school. On the route, we pass by a newly constructed Kaiser. It is along a major thoroughfare and is next to two malls on one side. On the other side is a relatively desolate construction zone. I frequently see the staff and guests walking to and from the mall that is diagonally across from the hospital. Many of them are in it for the Starbucks.

This, prompted me to wonder, why doesn't the hospital have space for coffee shops, florists, ... right on the lot. Throw in a little relatively healthy fast food, and you can allow people to stay much more comfortably. They are going to be staying anyways, but it is hard to get away to go get some food. You feel really selfish and you worry the entire time that you are gone.

Many modern malls are now making space along the edges and near the street for stores like Starbucks, Subway, ... to move in. It seems like a natural marriage to me. Why have people drive out to get food/coffee, then drive back. It would be better to keep them there. You could have a small parking lot that is externally accessible to keep the bulk of the traffic that is not hospital related off of the hospital parking lot.

For those of you who might be wondering at this point, I do realize that there are typically places to get food in the hospitals. Unfortunately, I have spent enough time in hospitals to realize that these places are frequently either terrible, or lacking in options over longer periods of time. I have been very pleased to see the improvements in the quality, taste, nutrition, and options in recent years though.

Anyways, not a big deal, but I think it would be a minor improvement to people's lives during a trying time. Who knows, it might even help pay for things that improve the quality of the staff, patients, and guests in other ways.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Good Vs. Evil or How to Avoid Flaming Death for your Children

I realize that when you think about the battle of Good Vs. Evil, power strips are probably not the first thing you think about. They were not the top of my list either. Then again, when the transformer in the back of my house decided that 50 years of reliable service was more than sufficient, power strips suddenly became far more important in my life.

Fried Transformer on PoleFried Transformer on Pole in Backyard

It was 11:30 at night and I was minding my own business. The kids were asleep, we were ready for bed. Right before going to sleep, I was compulsively^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H performing one last check of my email from my iPhone. Right when I hit the email application button, all of the lights went out, there was a loud buzzing sound, followed by a really loud thunk, a bright flash of light, and three battery backups starting to scream at alternating intervals. The timing was so perfect, that I did not want to touch my iPhone for a few seconds. After making sure that this was a localized issue and not a major calamity, we went to sleep. By the way, battery backups on network connections are very cool. I was browsing at over 30Mbps during a neighborhood blackout. Go Comcast!

In the morning, the power was still out. I placed a quick call to the power company and they were in front of my house in less than 5 minutes. They quickly identified that the transformer was indeed past its prime, installed in a very inconvenient way, and was adding a physically uncomfortable amount of live power to the pole (did I mention the rain already). As a side note, the person describing the live power situation, who had just climbed down from the transformer on that pole, may not have used the term "physically uncomfortable" when letting HQ know that they had to bring a team out to replace the transformer.

After a very short while longer, and someone putting a set of wires bridging our wires to the transformer a few houses down, we had power again.

Man Climbing Pole to Give us PowerMan Climbing Pole to Give us Power (Jumper to the Rescue)

Mostly. It took a little while to notice, but there were three areas of the house without power still. After a little investigation I found out that three of the circuits had been tripped at the circuit breaker. I am very glad that I had the system changed a few years ago. The old one would not have tripped. Two of the circuits went back on right away, the third, tripped again immediately.

For those of you following at home, we are finally going to talk about power strips. It turns out that during the power spike, the power strip in my daughter's room had a rather large surge go through it. In fact, it was more than the power strip could handle. When I moved out the bookshelf and flipped it over, you can see the damage.

Fried Power Strip With Scorch Marks on WallsPower Strip Flipped Over After Outage

It was busy trying to light my daughter's bookshelf on fire. You can see the little scorch marks where heat was starting to light the bookshelf and some minor scorch marks on the wall. After all was safely unplugged and the devices were checked (they actually all made it), I took the fried power strip back to my office and opened it up.

What Fried Power Strip Looked Like On InsideWhat Fried Power Strip Looked Like On Inside

I was pretty impressed. If you look closely, you can see that the fuse appeared to have been bypassed by the capacitor exploding and shooting out fire (roasting the fuse). I wonder how hot it was. It was bad enough, if I am correct, for the whole fuse area to get completely roasted and have heat to shoot out the holes. I don't know how long it was frying, the circuit tripped quickly and I did not smell smoke from the device and it did not trip the smoke detector in the room, so I don't think it was frying for long. I will now officially designate this power strip as Evil. Sorry to the sympathizers out there, but if you try and bring flaming death down on my children while they sleep in their beds, you are Evil.

Ok, now that we have covered Evil, you must be wondering what is good. Well, all of the APC power backups and the Belkin power backup came through just fine. I was sitting at my desk trying to work the next morning and I plugged in my iPhone to charge it. Nothing happened. I looked at the power strip on my desk. Only one of the three lights was on. No reset button. It turns out that this power strip was fried as well. Here is a picture of it:

A Good Power StripA Good Power Strip

This power strip was sitting on my desk, next to my computer, under my monitor. It was sitting inside a pile of nice flammable receipts (really need to categorize and file those). No damage was visible, nothing was scorched. It was plugged into a much larger 20A circuit with a new direct line back to the fuse box. If anything should have fried, it was this power strip. It turns out that the manufacturers thought of what would happen in an overload and built the thing to burn itself out, instead of burning your house down. Not a bad trade off. I now dub this power strip Good. I am going to happily order a few more. They have models that offer surge protection and ones that don't. Please make sure you get the surge protected version if you want it.

Power Sentry 5-Outlet PowerSquid Surge Suppressor

The new transformer is properly installed more than two houses away. This took less than 4 hours and I had power the entire time. I love Silicon Valley Power. Santa Clara utilities are the best I have ever experienced.

I am pleased to say, that at least in this instance, Good triumphed over Evil.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What would you like at your Fingertips?

Happy Lunar New Year!

I would like to start out this Lunar New Year with a simple question. What would you like at your fingertips? I have pondered this question for a while. I have come up with all kinds of visions of things I would like, and submitted comments and suggestions to vendors and the world. A couple of days ago, I realized, I can actually make a lot of it happen. Today's cell phones are a little bit better than the older ones used to be.

I have started to follow the Beginning iPhone Programming Tips posted by TimesToCome. Learning a new language seems like a relatively high price to pay. That being said, I remember lots of really cool things that I would have loved to have handy earlier. There were lots of things that I kept close, checked often, and worried about more often.

Now, I am planning on implementing some of those. I would also be happy to have any suggestions. What kinds of information are you looking for? What kinds of information do you check often? What would you like your phone (iPhone at first) to do? How long do you think it will take me to have my first application?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Her Stroke of Insight

In the later part of last year, I was working on improving my presentation skills. I was reading about presentations and great presenting. I cannot remember if it was Guy Kawasaki or a talk on Presentation Zen
by Garr Reynolds. Guy turned me on to Garr and an author's talk he did at Google on Presentation Zen. Along the way, several people have also pointed me towards TED (Technology, Innovation, Design). One of the best talks that I have watched on TED was "My Stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte Taylor:

After watching this presentation, I purchased and read the book under the same name, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. She has turned something that most people would find very crippling into a source of knowledge and strength. Along the way, she also used her education as a brain researcher to help gain better understanding about how the brain works. I find this particularly interesting.

She found out how hard it is to build a plan and stick to it when the narrator in the brain is not working. When your inner voice, that helps plot and plan, is no longer available. This would be a lot like how my Artificial Life forms live. I am not yet sure how to incorporate that inner voice into my creatures, but wow, it would be great to have them.

Right now, without that narrative, my creatures are living in the moment. At each moment, they need to make a plan, analyze the situation, and take a course of action. At the next moment, they don't really have much information about the plan that they were following previously. There are some clues, but they are pretty weak.

One thing I picked up from the book is the length of time for a physiological response. After something happens or you first become aware of it, your body physically responds for a bout 90 seconds. You are afraid, or angry, or happy, or whatever for 90 seconds. After that period, you can choose your reaction again. You can choose how you feel. You can ignore your initial physical reaction to something for 90 seconds and then it gets easier. This is very good to keep in mind when your child does something particularly harsh or someone does something that sets you off for some reason. Just wait 90 seconds, pretend it is all good, and in 90 seconds, it will be easier to let it go. I have used this insight to get past some really painful or frustrating things, and also to help change what I think about.

Jill described telling her brain something on the order of "yes, that is very nice, we are going to stop having that kind of thought now" and having it work. I have had a decent amount of success with this technique. Why did it take reading a book about someone's experience during and recovering from partial brain death for me to consider talking to my brain? I know it sounds weird, but have you tried it? Ask your brain to do something or not do something. Really ask it. You might be surprised.

Another thing that I found really scary was Jill's description of what it was like to be in the hospital after a stroke. She wanted people to speak slowly and quietly. She needed a lot of time to form a response to a question. The doctors or nurses ended up thinking that she was incapable due to her reaction to bright lights and loud questions or the amount of time it took her to come up with a response.

It still amazes me how adaptive a human body and human brain are. She lost a lot. By working on getting back pieces and stretching a little bit more each day, she gained a lot of it back. Yes, in the end, she is not the same person. But, if she had listened to common wisdom, she would have been an invalid for life with never expanding horizons. Believe in what your body and brain can do. Give them a chance.

To Jill, who went through a massive breakdown and turned it into genius: Thank You!


Amazon Kindle Review and Feature Requests

I have been spending way too much time on the Kindle. I just read this Kindle Review and had a few comments on it. Basically I agree with the review. The Kindle is a relatively early product with a few odd issues. The price is relatively high and it mostly makes sense for the impatient, frequent travelers, and/or avid book readers. Hrm, sounds like Americans to me (with the possible exception of the avid book readers part). There are now over 200,000 books available for the Kindle.

The fact that it does not have back lighting makes the display require far less power, as mentioned in the review. It also does another thing though. The lack of backlighting decreases eye strain. I used to print lots of stuff in order to be able to read it without my eyes getting tired. Now, I can send it to my Kindle with a simple email message and read it there without having to burn more paper. One nice way to make up for the lack of backlighting is to purchase a clip on light for it. Here is a simple clip on light that works pretty well. It is a bit bright though, so if you want to read next to a very light sensitive person, this may not be the one for you.

There are a few things that I would love to see the Kindle and/or Amazon support:
  • Please let me share documents with my family. I would love to be able to share a book with a friend or family member, temporarily giving up my right to view it. My preference would be to still allow for searches, still show it in the list, and give me the ability to request it back from the other person. I am fine with waiting until it is removed from my device for them to be able to get it and removed from their device before I can get it back. DRM is secure and I can share books.
  • Allow for Kindle focused reviews. People say all kinds of wonderful things in the reviews for a book that is available in the Kindle store, but sometimes, when you get the book, the formatting or images are terrible. I have noticed (and blogged) that there is a huge difference in the quality and usability of the books based on the formatting effort put in by the publisher. I would love to be able to say this book was a hit, wish I could read the diagrams.
  • It would also be nice to have a glow option for the kindle (like the Timex Indiglow(TM).)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Seven Things Meme...

Thanks to Jason Sweat, I was tagged with the "Seven Things" meme.
  1. My first computer was a Commodore Vic 20.
  2. I learned basic with my brother. We miss-typed the commands needed to load a program we had typed in and the error message was not consistent. Eventually, we started to figure out the key commands through trial an error. We were as far as peek and poke when we went out and purchased a book. Yes, we randomly tried words and actually found peek and poke. Really.
  3. My first paid programming job was when I was 13 or 14. It was with a partner that was facilitating the hardware needed to build and deploy the system.
  4. My first online ID was Wishmaker. I was put on the spot and the owner of the site asked me what I liked to do. I like making people's wishes come true, hence "wishmaker". I am still known as wishmaker or TheWishmaker on many sites.
  5. I cringe whenever scenes in movies mention torture, pliers, and finger or toenails, from personal experience.
  6. Finding more people to tag is actually possibly going to be harder than coming up with the facts to share. (and no, I am not counting this fact)
  7. An off duty police officer in the US can get from his house all the way to squealing his tires in pursuit in about 30ish seconds. One of my friends, named Jason, but not related to the tagger above, thought it would be a good idea to "salute" said officer with both of his middle fingers. One a positive note, while he and his friends pursued us for over 30 minutes, they did not catch us.
  8. Sun described my architecture as having "near linear scalability". Their tests actually showed what the architecture was designed for, linear scalability.

I would like to tag:

Oh, and the rules: Mention the person who tagged you, post seven things people might not know about you, then tag seven more people and let them know via post to their blog or mention on twitter.


Kindle Takes a Dive and Publishing Quality Books

I have been surprised at how much I use the Kindle, and the kinds of issues that I find. Some of the issues are good, some are bad. First, let me start out on a positive note. The other day, I was paying for something and managed to drop what I had in my hands and in a reflex action, drop my Kindle as well. I quickly picked it up and looked at it. It looked fine at first glance and was showing what I had been looking at. I finished up at the register and sat down to take a closer look. It turned out that when hitting the tile from about 4 feet up it had popped part of the case open. A slight bit of pressure snapped the case closed again. If you look really closely, you can see a small bend in the seam. I was quite happy and figured that the Kindle took the fall quite well. Then, I tried to turn the page. To my horror, the UI did not change. At this point, I remembered that the Kindle did not require any power to keep the UI looking the same. I was now worried that it was completely dead. I tried the lock/unlock keys. That did not work. At one point, it occurred to me that I might be able to hold down the lock/unlock keys. When I tried this, nothing seemed to happen. Then I noticed that the menu slider was growing up the side. I let go of the keys and it went back down. This time, I pushed the keys down and waited until the line made it to the top. A few tense seconds later, and my Kindle was perfectly happy and working normally. I do not, in any way, fault Amazon for those tense moments. I am quite happy that my device managed to make it unscathed through the drop. Modern product engineering for tech toys seems very good compared to the older products I remember.

As I have previously discussed, some of the books available on Kindle are well formatted and some of them are not. I have looked a little further in a few books that I have read. I have also looked a little bit online. It appears that the Kindle eats source code when processing contents. I think it is the Kindle's built in support for HTML at play. Anything that looks like an open tag is suspect. In one of the two books I have just completed: Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (Robert C. Martin Series) I noticed that many sections of code would not compile. I started to pick up the pattern pretty quickly. In source code, you have to be very careful to tell the Kindle to not apply formatting to it. If you don't, you will get odd results.

In section G33 at the end of the book, there is a piece of code:
if(nextLevel tags.length)
I believe this should have a '<' but it was stripped out:
if(nextLevel < tags.length)
This is not a big thing, but when you start to encounter tables and images that you cannot zoom, hyphens where they should not be, and missing pieces of code in a book about clean code, it starts to get a little frustrating.

Since I am working on a book that I would like to publish and have available soon, I started to look into what it would take to get the book formatted correctly on the Kindle. I did find this quick overview of Kindle Formatting. I guess this answers one of the questions that I had earlier. Why aren't all books available for Kindle? It is probably really easy for most companies to publish their books to Kindle. Making the book look good on the Kindle might require some effort.

I have also just finished reading "Aiming at Amazon", which is a self publishing guide for publishing books for the Amazon market. This was a really good book. I look forward to finding out if the tips and techniques still apply today. Did you know, that if you are updating a print-on-demand book, it will show up as "out of stock" while you are proofing? Has anybody out there setup a self-publishing operation?