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Readers Prefer Kindle or iPad, Even if Slower

It sounds strange at first. Reading on a Kindle or iPad slows you down. Reading a physical book is faster. The Nielsen company comes to this conclusion following a survey of twenty four frequent readers.

Using short stories by Hemingway, book readers completed their reading in what Nielsen said is statistically significant faster times. Kindles proved slowest.

Everyone disliked reading on a laptop. Since laptops are work tools, they’re not the reader of choice for relaxing or entertaining reading. Too similar to work, apparently.

However, even if books are faster reads, people prefer e-readers. As screens improve this will likely add momentum to a switch in favor of digital readers. It’s not hard to project that the reading experience will change even more radically with hyperlinks, videos, photos and audio inserts to supplement text. The latest Kindle app allows you to turn on a shared highlight function. You can share with other Kindle readers sections of books you mark as noteworthy, making reading a shared experience in a limited way.

This integration of digital multiple media is changing not only how fast we read, but how we read and, no doubt, we’re in for much more change. How are digital readers changing our (or your) reading and learning?

The Israeli Army Video

The video of Israeli Army soldiers in Hebron performing a dance routine has created an international stir. However, it may be less an exercise in diplomatic and political insensitivity than an indication that we live in a global media culture and we’re so used to media they’re a seamless part of our lives.

That these young people did not perceive how their synchronized dance would look on video to those outside their environment simply reveals how deeply they embrace a YouTube way of life. The medium, the sharing and the performance are so embedded in their lives they didn’t give due consideration to the security issues nor public perception of their dance.

It’s a do-it-yourself media world. Anyone can be a producer. The lines between performance and normal affairs are blurred everyday. To be on-camera is no longer special. No studio is required as it was in the broadcast television era. The era of elite professionals set apart to prepare content for an audience who passively receive it through complicated, inaccessible technology is ancient history.

We carry cameras with us. We send images so casually it’s not even remarkable. We document the mundane and the historic. A airliner slides into the Hudson River and it’s captured on an iPhone, posted on a photo site and reported on Twitter. Prisoners in the Philippines perform a Michael Jackson synchronized dance while behind bars. It’s sent around the world and becomes a viral sensation.

And young soldiers, without thinking through the implications, dance on-camera and share their production. The world gasps, but that’s life today.

Internet Access A Fundamental Right?

A survey of several thousand people in 26 countries says Internet access should be a fundamental human right.

An Old BMW “Airhead” Comes to Life

Nothing recently has caused my heart to soar like the sound of a BMW motorcycle roaring to life after ten years of sitting in the garage. It’s a 1977 R100RS. To my mind a classic. I commuted into New York City from New Jersey on it for ten years. I rode it with my son behind me as we traveled the northeast on camping trips. The old bike holds a special piece of my heart. I couldn’t part with it. It sat unused for this past decade, deteriorating. My guilt was heavy with the neglect of an old friend.

We maneuvered through congested traffic on route 4, crossed the George Washington Bridge, traversed the West Side Highway and Riverside Drive. We went down a couple of times. Once under the West Side Highway on a diesel slickened intersection and once when kids playing at an open hydrant managed to direct a water stream into the fairing and carried us unwillingly and uncontrollably down Riverside Drive into oncoming traffic. Once I hunkered down low on the gas tank when, unable to stop, I rode into a shootout on Riverside Drive. Men holding guns on one side of the street hid behind a car pointing guns at men on the other side crouching behind their vehicle. Fortunately, no shots were fired as we drove through their line of sight.

Once, a stupid, dangerous character dropped a baseball bat from the pedestrian walkway of the GWB onto us. The bat, surprisingly, passed through an impossibly narrow space between my leg and the fairing and fell to the pavement doing no harm. When I got to the end of the bridge I saw officers taking reports from a line of drivers. Cars and trucks had also been hit with all manner of rocks and bricks and some had broken windshields.

There were also good rides. I reveled at the sight of sunset on route 4 as we headed west in wintertime and felt the cool air rising from the Hudson River as we passed on the bridge high above.

The bike is geared for the German Autobahn and it was constrained by the slow, lumbering speeds of U.S. highways but when it gets close to its top speed, the fairing actually creates an envelope of protection and the bike settles down noticeably, gripping the surface and providing a remarkable sense of stability. It was the first bike with a full fairing tested in a wind tunnel and it caused traditional BMW riders to question where the company was headed.

The bike will talk to you, if you listen. It’s among the last of the horizontally opposed air-cooled engines that made BMW motorcycles distinctive for several decades. When the tappets click and the dual exhausts hum, you know it’s in good health. When those familiar noises and quirks change, however, it’s time to look into them. And I mean literally look into the bike’s innards.

Nearly everything on these old “airheads,” as they are called, can be repaired or replaced. Hardly a single part is beyond diagnosis, disassembly and repair. I’ve fixed the brakes, replaced the points, plugs, and exhaust pipes, re-set the timing and valve clearances, re-built the carbs, cleaned every electrical contact, taken apart and repaired at least three switches, one relay and the dashboard clock. No LEDs or circuit boards. (Well, it has one but it’s hardly a major feature.)

I’ve not taken the engine, transmission or drive shaft apart. In the past I have done this. But it takes time and a few gear pullers, and I’ve decided that if it’s necessary, I’ll leave this to the real mechanics. Maybe in the winter downtime.

In the meantime, I could be satisfied just starting it up and listening to it purr. Sometimes it’s not just about the ride, it’s also about the memories and something intangible like the freedom to dream of what’s over the horizon, and let yourself go there, perhaps on two wheels.

The British Museum Website

Speaking of institutions, as I did in the previous post, I received a list of recommended websites from StumbleUpon and the British Museum’s site was listed. When I think of an institution, I think of the British Museum.

I’ve done research there and I find it a remarkably interesting place. And I realize even writing that last sentence can offend those who take offense at the very existence of institutions such as the British Museum.

I’m referring to the conversation about the role of museums, their authenticity, their value as archives, their social and cultural function as conservators or as exploiters. Museums are returning cultural objects and human remains to people from whom they extracted them years ago. It’s a conflicted context and a worthy illustration of the interplay between an institution’s mission and the social context in which it was formed. A museum reflects the values that informed the mission when it was organized in addition to the values it seeks to display through its offerings. A changing context calls those values into question and, in the case of museums, demands adaptation and deep change.

That said, this is one of the most intriguing institutional websites I’ve seen. On the face of it, it’s worth visiting for the experience it offers. It’s an example of an old-line institution breaking into the digital world.

My Earth Day Backyard Odyssey

Venus and Earth's Moon My Earth Day started breathlessly in the backyard with wet feet. I got up to the glorious juxtaposition of Venus with the waning crescent moon low in the east. These things excite me!

The birds were singing riotously in the gathering dawn. Two hoot owls were somewhere very close looking for prey and calling to each other. Wonderful!

I grabbed my camera and tripod and put on my Minnetonka moccasins and literally ran into the backyard to get a good view. It was still dark. The moon and planet were obscured by trees on the horizon. I ran around the yard. Then I noticed. My pants were sticking to my ankles. I’ve got water inside my Minnetonkas. I’m wet as sop. It’s cold out here. And there’s no good location to capture this glorious sight.

So I ran back to the deck, set up the tripod and realized in the darkness the camera is set on manual. I couldn’t see through the fog in my glasses to re-set it. So I rushed inside and made the changes.

Back outside. Re-attach the camera to the tripod and focus. Nothing happens. A message says the card is full. Why don’t I take care of these things at the end of a shoot instead of waiting until the start of the next one? No time for this rumination.

Back inside. Replace the card. Back outside. Re-focus. Grab a shot before the sunlight invades the scene. To borrow a line from a Waylon Jennings song, I don’t think Ansel Adams done it this-away, no I don’t think Ansel done it this-away.

Have wonderful, meaningful Earth Day!

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers…
Psalm 24: 1,2

Producing Netbooks That Are “Just Good Enough”

Netbooks provide "good enough" computing.Oh really? And that’s good enough to market them?  In his Digital Domain column in the NY Times this morning, Randall Stross quotes an analyst who makes the case for netbooks in this way.

It confuses me. A great company like Hewlett Packard entering into a market niche and self-consciously diluting its brand with a product so cheap you wouldn’t mind if you lost it while traveling. Steve Jobs has said Apple won’t do it. Yet, it’s rumored Apple is working on a netbook. But there is a cottage industry in Apple rumors. It’s part of the mystique of the company.

That’s only one part of my confusion. The other is companies competing on a "just good enough" basis. It seems like a race to the bottom. An HP executive says they want to be present at a price point in a popular shift to netbooks. But surely stepping into this competition comes with a price. And I wonder if the price isn’t erosion of the brand, trust in the line of products across the board and a dilution of confidence. For what? To be present in a marketplace that is equivalent to the shelves of the "Nothing Over a Dollar Store."

No one is making a claim that netbooks are more than just good enough. That’s their selling point, along with price. Some bloggers have even said they will be given away as premiums when you buy a subscription to a digital service. That’s a real throwaway. Wasteful, unhealthy  for the environment and just good enough computing, all in one package. So, no one is being misled.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s my values. I don’t know. I just don’t get anyone or any product aspiring to be just good enough.

Mac Botnet Discovered

A Mac botnet has been discovered according to the New York Times. The malicious program infiltrated, took over and operated a network of Macs to cause denial of service to a website.

Writer Riva Richmond says Macs have not been used often by botnets but as Mac users increase the problems plaguing Microsoft systems are coming to Macs. Small market share in the past has made them less attractive to hackers who want to affect large numbers of machines. Apparently that is changing.

HP Netbook Redux

After using a netbook for a few weeks I’m tracking back to a post I wrote when I bought the HP mini. I’ve also used a Dell.

The first reaction to this machine is, "Oh, that’s cute!" And it is. Netbooks look like their larger cousins, full feature laptops. The HP was cosmetically more appealing than its competitors when it arrived.

This appearance may be a liability, however. It may lead to the expectation the machine will also do what a laptop does, and it can’t. It isn’t made to perform at that level. Disappointment follows.

Netbooks are made to access the Internet and read email. They will play video and audio files and display photos. They do these things barely adequately. To expect more is to court frustration.

I’ve carried the netbook with me on the road. Its light weight is a distinct advantage. Its performance is hardly better than a Blackberry for email, however. I actually prefer the Blackberry because it’s far less frustrating to use and does what I want with greater speed.

Typing on the netbook, even with its wider keyboard is a chore for me. My fingers don’t travel the compact space easily.Typing longer notes is a trial with too many errors. I revert to one-finger typing and I can accomplish thumb typing on the Blackberry with greater ease and accuracy.

The netbook can become overworked easily. Attempting to type a blog post, review it and make corrections can be too much. Downloading photos taxes the system. Deleting email in bulk can make you think it’s locked up. It wasn’t made for this, remember.

Controlling the scroll rate on the touchpad is hit or miss with me despite slowing it down in preferences. It easily scrolls past where I want to go. You can use the arrow keys but the touchpad is more convenient and intuitive. To do this I have to think about it. Intuitive is better .Otherwise it’s just cumbersome.

The HP will display a full screen by pressing f11. This eliminates the toolbar and gives a fuller view of a webpage. In addition, most browsers  allow you to hit control plus (still can’t figure out how to access the "plus" key) to zoom in.

I’ve concluded the netbook won’t replace my laptop on the road and that was my main reason for buying it. It does what it’s supposed to do. (Barely) It looks great. It’s wonderfully light weight. Yet with all this going for it, it doesn’t do what I need and what it does I can do with other appliances with less frustration. So it will stay home and probably collect dust unless someone else in the family takes a liking to it.

Never the less, I’ll bet these things sell by the millions because they’re so appealing. And I’ll bet many users will accept the compromises and love the frustrating little critters. Just not me.

Butterflies on St. Maarten

Blue MetallicaA few weeks ago I had the opportunity to photograph at the Butterfly Farm on St. Maarten. They have around forty species at the farm and the garden is compact and easily accessible. This is one of my favorite places on the island, so spending time there is a great diversion.

I went in the morning when the butterflies are becoming most active. They are activated by sunlight and warm tempertures. It’s a matter of waiting patiently for one to strike the best pose and snapping away as quickly as possible. A selection of photos is at this online album.

Upon returning home in the U.S. we had a remarkably warm Sunday and my daughter walked into the garage to discover that an eastern swallowtail chrysalis that I had set aside from last summer had emerged into a butterfly. It was an unexpected treat, especially after just returning from the Butterfly Farm. Early Swallowtail

Two more chrysalises matured over the next two days, then it turned seasonable cold again and the three remaining haven’t hatched yet.

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