Just Shelley

Body Changes

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

We were early to the Body Worlds show and spent time walking around the St. Louis Science Center. It is an impressive place with all sorts of gadgets and interactive displays. The kind of place you can go to as a family and everyone will have a good time. Yes, even the teens.

One of the sections had various medical stuff to try including a blood pressure testing machine. The last time I was checked my blood pressure was normal, but that was three or four years ago. I tried it this time and my pressure ended up at 143/84. To evaluate the accuracy, my roommate tested his pressure and received the reading he normally gets.

A reading of 143/84 isn’t terribly bad, but it’s not overly good, either. In a way, I had a feeling my blood pressure was creeping up. I’ve been far too sedentary the last few months, and feeling a great deal of stress. My weight is not good, I use too much salt on my food, and drink too much coffee in the morning. I also read the weblogs of people who irritate me.

Like my blood pressure, there isn’t anything terribly bad about my lifestyle, but it’s not overly good, either. I read Dave Rogers post about running seven miles in 79 minutes, and know that if I tried it, I’d run it in less because I’d be dead before I was done.

I and my roommate have had to make some lifestyle changes in the last few months, and it’s time to face additional changes. Rather than think of what I have to give up, though, I like to think I’m gaining. I can splurge on those halibut steaks or red snapper, where before I may have drifted over to the fish sticks. Luckily, our stores carry a good supply of foods that are both organic and healthy, if pricey. I can now justify the expenditure with, “cheaper than medicine”.

It encourages me to read about people like Dave, or Elaine, or Ethan and others, who have looked at their lives and said, “Time for a change”, and made it stick. The change didn’t happen for them overnight, but it did happen. I can carry that through with me during those times when change seems to come too slow.

The bigger challenge for me in turning my lifestyle around isn’t going to be walking more and eating better, it’s going to be reducing stress in my life. What am I saying: stress is my life. Which is ridiculous if you think about it, because if I wanted to be stressed, I should have stayed in Silicon Valley. I could have lived a life in the flow, conferenced, connected, and teetering on that next bubble, always hungry for more until burning out. Instead I moved to St. Louis, which lost its bubble just after the 1904 World’s Fair.

The pictures don’t have to be good, the writing doesn’t have to be perfect, programming bugs don’t kill. Usually. I can still read the weblogs of people who irritate me, but learn to take them much less seriously.



Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I can’t say enough about the new Kindle ebook reader. I just received mine last week, and have already loaded about 30 books, though I’ve only had to pay for four of them.

I debated quite a bit about buying the Kindle. I wasn’t sure about a first generation product, and the screen size seemed very small for a book reader. What decided me was finding so many of books from my now long gone library available for the Kindle, and all cheaper than buying the book in hard copy. I also like the idea of having my library fit in my pocket.

The Kindle is based on electronic paper, which uses a specialized ink with particles that react to an electric field to form the letters. Once the letters are formed, you can turn the device off, and the letters will remain. The Kindle has a long-lasting battery because it doesn’t need to use power to maintain a page.

The electronic paper reflects like regular paper, which means you can read the device in sunlight, and need some form of reading light to see the print. I thought the Kindle was a little dingy at first, with its light gray background, and dark gray text. However, under a stronger reading light, I found that it really does match the paper found in a typical paperback.

The page turning generates a flash that’s a little disconcerting until you get used to it. The small screen also takes some time to get used to, but once you do, doesn’t impact on the reading experience. If there was one thing I’d change about the Kindle, it’s the long “Next page” button on the right side. I keep hitting this when I shift in the chair or the bed, even when I’m using the cover in the proper format to hold the device. I think that someone at Amazon got a little carried away with the buttons.

I tried out the experimental services, including music and basic web services. The Kindle has a tiny little speaker, as well as a headphones plug-in. You can listen to music or audio books, though the iPod does a better job.

The web browser is decent, considering the fact that the Kindle is grayscale with a small screen. I was pleased to see that both of my sites loaded nicely in the device, thanks to my mobile stylesheets.

When you read a book, you can add a bookmark, and you can also place the cursor on the line and look up words in a built-in dictionary. There’s a way to capture clippings from books, which you can then download to your computer. No more having to hand type out a longish quote that you want to include in a weblog post.

The power of Kindle, though, is that quick access to the Internet for books, and not just to the Amazon store, either. I’ve found at least two sites that provide free, Kindle formatted books, drawing on the vast pile of books available at Project Gutenberg. My favorite site is Feedbooks, with its associated Feedbooks Kindle Downloading Guide. This book is full of links to formatted classics. All you have to do is position the cursor at any link, click the item, and the book is downloaded to the reader.

The Guide doesn’t just have older classics, it also has newer books that have been contributed to the public domain or released with Creative Commons license. Books such as the recent Firefly fanflic novel, and several short and long stories from Cory Doctorow and other writers. Currently, among the publications I have loaded are:

  • Allan Quatermain by Henry Rider Haggard
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Sun Tzu on The Art of War
  • A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
  • Walden: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
  • My Own Kind of Freedom based on Firefly, by Steven Brust
  • Emma by Jane Austin
  • Acts of God: the Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America by Ted Steinberg

Another book currently loaded is Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn, a modern fantasy book recommended by someone who knows I’m fond of Mercedes Lackey. I found Vaughn’s first book for only 3.99 for the Kindle version. That was cheap enough to give the book a try, which demonstrates Kindle’s impact not only on how we read, but what we read.

When we have to check a book out of the library, pick it up at the store, or order it on Amazon, we may not be as willing to try an unfamiliar author or go with that first impulse of interest in a book. With Kindle, it’s five minutes from hearing about a new book to having it downloaded and ready to read. If I had to order the Vaughn book, pay the higher price, and wait for delivery, I’m not sure I would have purchased it. With the Kindle, I figured if I don’t like her writing, no real harm done; I’m out the cost of an AppleTV movie rental. If I do like her novel, though, I’ll have another author whose work I like.

More importantly, Ms. Vaughn, who is not as established an author as Lackey, has a chance to extend her audience. In fact, any author can reach a new audience, and you don’t have to have a publishing company behind you.

Kindle is based on a proprietary e-book format, which gives one pause–especially when considering that it’s going up against a Sony proprietary ebook format. Unfortunately, it’s also only available for the US at this time. However, rumor has it that the Sony ebook reader is going to be sold in Europe soon, so I imagine that Amazon is also pursuing this option. Where and when is hard to say. The Kindle is also not the cheapest toy around, though it is less pricey than an iPhone. However, my Kindle has paid for itself this week, as the weather swiveled from blizzard to thunderstorm and back to Blizzard, and I expect it will continue to pay for itself way into the future.

Besides, how can a person who writes under the name “Burningbird” pass on a device called Kindle?


Video Adventures: AppleTV

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t have the spare income to indulge myself in all the new toys that come along. However, I considered the Sprint refund to be ‘found’ money, and used it to buy myself not one, but two new toys: a Kindle eReader, and an AppleTV.

The AppleTV is a little box that connects to your TV through an HDMI cable and to your computer and iTunes either wirelessly, or via an ethernet cable. I can use the box to look at video podcasts, watch movies or television shows, peruse photos from my local drive or via Flickr, watch YouTube videos, and listen to music.

Before the recent software update, I had to find podcasts through iTunes on my computer and sync to the AppleTV. Now, I can search and browse on podcasts directly from AppleTV. Apple still needs to filter the podcasts to those that can only play on AppleTV, but most can so it’s not too much of a hassle. Many of the podcasts are pretty lame, but some of the podcasts, such as those for the Hubble podcast and the Spitzer Science Center, are in HD and absolutely exquisite. Best of all, the podcasts I’ve checked out to this point are free.

I can sync television shows and movies from my computer to the AppleTV. After the recent software update, I can also rent movies and buy TV shows directly through the AppleTV interface. Apple is still adding movies to its library, but about 70 are in HD, and at least a couple of hundred are in SD. I don’t know how the movies look on the 50 inch televisions, but they look great on my smaller 27-inch 720p TV.

The movies aren’t cheap. An older movie rents for 2.99, 3.99 for HD quality. A new release is 3.99/4.99. If you have Netflix, it’s going to be cheaper to get your movies through that service. However, I’ve found that blu-ray movies sent from Netflix fail about 50% of the time. Being able to rent through Apple provides a second avenue for HD content. Plus, it’s a nice option when the weather is cold and there’s nothing else to watch.

The movies are ready to view in about one or two minutes after making the purchase (TV show) or rental (movie). I’ve found, though, that waiting until about 2-3% is downloaded works best.

You can sync music, but I only have the smaller 40GB machine, and don’t want to load it down with music. I also prefer to listen to music through my other computer, which is connected to nice speakers.

I can watch YouTube videos through the AppleTV, but I’ve not found it worthwhile. The YouTube photos look bad on a computer monitor, much less on a bigger TV screen.

Where I’ve found the AppleTV to be particularly useful is with photos. You can choose to sync a local directory with your AppleTV, copy photos to this directory, and they’re automatically uploaded to the machine. I can watch the photos in a slideshow, which is a great way to check out the pictures for flaws, bad cropping or focus, and so on.

There’s something about seeing the photos on the larger screen, while you’re seated several feet away, to get a good, objective view of the images. Since the AppleTV is connected to the TV through an HDMI cable, I get a nice, sharp view of the pictures. In addition, I can have the AppleTV use my photos, rather than its own built-in pictures, for the very nice screensaver. I’d like to have that screensaver for my Macs.

When I get bored looking at my own work, I can connect to a .mac or Flickr account, and add as many Flickr contacts as I want in order to look at other people’s photos. So, who has a .mac account I can try?

The AppleTV interface is very easy to use, and the box is small and out of the way. It runs a bit warm, which is typical for an aluminum Apple product. Whatever you do, do not stack it on your DVD player. The remote is very small, about the size of an iPod nano. So far I haven’t lost it, knock on aluminum. Unfortunately, AppleTV is restricted to US access at this time, but the Apple company has stated it will be rolled out to other countries hopefully later in the year.

Is the AppleTV worth the money? I wouldn’t buy one of the larger hard drives. The AppleTV is not separate storage from your computer, because it works by syncing so you’re really not getting any additional space. I do think the smaller versions are worth the money, especially if you don’t have a computer that supports a DVI or HDMI connection. It’s been fun viewing the different podcasts, and the device is a nice alternative if you don’t have cable (which I don’t). If you’re a photographer, the photo slideshow capability is especially useful.

Note that Apple has refurbished AppleTVs for sale for 199.00 at the Apple store. It’s not much of a savings, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks–enough for 5-10 movie rentals.