Holiday Reading List 2012

As is becoming something of a tradition here, I’m posting my reading list.

In a change from past years, I’m going completely electronic this year, taking along only my iPad Mini. No dead tree books his year.

As always tho, there is the usual problem of kindle vs iBooks. There is a non zero number of books that are on one platform but not the other. And, annoyingly, there is also a non zero number that are not on either of them.

(Perhaps I shouldn’t complain – digitising the collected literary output of humanity is a rather large endeavour).

Anyway.
Non Fiction

  1. The Rise and Decline of Nations – Mancur Olson – Kindle
  2. Enigma – Hugh Sebag-Montifiore – iBooks
  3. Secrets of the Conquorer – Stuart Prebble – iBooks
  4. The Signal and the Noise – Nate Silver – iBooks
  5. In Gods Name – David Yallop – iBooks

Fiction

  1. Threat Vector – Tom Clancy – IBooks
  2. The Hunt For Red October – Tom Clancy – iBooks

Worth a mention

  1. The Great North Road – Peter F Hamilton – iBooks
  2. Starks War – Jack Campbell – iBooks

Now that I carry a substantial library of ebooks around with me in the palm of my hand, a set reading list is mostly out dated. Being able to read almost any book at a whim. And to do so comfortably using my iPad Mini makes such a difference 🙂

The Mini is a dream to use, BTW. Its light, and an excellent size for reading. And just small enough to type on without too many spelling errors. It is an excellent alternative to the kindle as a reading device.

(Ps watch the Instagram category on the blog for some holiday snaps)

Apple’s Sony Reader Problem.

As you no doubt have heard already about the fact that Apple has rejected the Sony Reader app for iOS devices. This is apparently based on the fact that all purchases must go though the official apple sanctioned method of using in app purchases and not any third party method of doing things.

This no doubt is causing some executives at Amazon to consider the very real possibility that their highly acclaimed Kindle app for iOS might be pulled as well.

Now let’s stop the hysteria right the heck there. Apple is not stupid. Put your hand up who ought an iPad thinking “The Sony Reader app is going to be awesome on the iPad”?? Anyone, anyone?? Bueller, Bueller??

Now, who bought an iPad thinking “there is both iBooks and the Kindle app on the iPad- I’ll be able to get any book I want”??? I’m betting that a whole lot more people, including me, thought of that.

The fact of the matter is that Apple is not going to get a whole lot of grief from die hard Sony Reader fans for this. Just imagine the uproar if Amazon was forced to withdraw their kindle app for iPad. The horror. I can imagine seeing legions of angry people marching up Infinite Loop with fire torches and pitchforks.

In other words, the Kindle is actually a net benefit for the iOS platform. It actually helps Apple sell iPads and iPhones and iTouches. I doubt they’d be in a hurry to kill what is a net benefit for them.

So provided that Amazon and to a lesser extent, Barnes and Noble, play their cards right, I don’t see the problem.

The is of course the separate issue of Apple wanting all purchases to go through their inapplicable purchases mechanism. On the face of it, it’s possible to see this as simple profiteering. I doubt it’s quite that simple.

However, what apple needs to realise that, almost by accident, they’ve turned the app store into a vital piece of infrastructure, the Windows of the app store world. I’m not sure they’re quite prepared to undertake this role.

Google on the other hand set out to turn themselves into vital piece of the webs infrastructure. Whatever they may do wrong, they do have that goal very clear in mind. Apple not so much. They come across as being quite heavy handed when things like this happen. If anyone should understand the power of perception, it should be Steve Jobs and Apple.

So, ultimately the I believe that Apple will do the pragmatic thing and lay off the heavy handed moves in this space, but in the short term the perception of things may very well work against them.

Why I Just Bought A Dell (instead of an iPad)

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Even with all the iPad hysteria in yonder interwebs, there is one fact that differentiates the iPad from a true, bad-to-the-bone laptop: the need to sync.

This above all else cripples the iPad (at least when one considers it against the backdrop of the average laptop hardware spec). Think of it. How are you going to get all those wonderful iPhone apps you’ve bought over the past three years onto your brand spanking new iPad?? You need to sync it. How are you going to get your music, tv shows and movies on top your iPad? You need to sync it. In fact, how are you going to get some swanky software update that Apple will surely release on to your iPad without syncing it??

I have that problem with my iPhones at the moment. My iTunes library  that i sync the iPhones to got borked a few weeks back. Now I have to erase and re-sync BOTH iPhones with my partially rebuild library (its a bit of a hit or miss process). Until I do that, I can get stuff off the devices, but not sync stuff to them. Bit of a pain, no?? Its going to be even worse with the iPad if I’m ever in this sticky situation with it.

Secondly, the iPad runs iPhone OS3.2, the laptop runs Windows 7 Professional. Which gives me the great freedom of applications?? It depends. I have no qualms about the app store. Its the type of application that is allowed on the iPad/iPhone thats the problem. Apple clearly prohibits running Virtual machines, or any kind of Just In Time compiliation on the device in question. So how do I write code on the thing?? (writing code is useless if you can’t compile in real time and debug). A Jailbreak is out of the question , and even then, Visual Studio is certainly not coming to a jailbroken iPad near you.

Second, the hardware itself limits what kind of applications you can run. If Adobe produces a stripped down version of Photoshop (likely – they already have a Photoshop iPhone app), Lightroom (possible, it depends on if the SDK allows access to the SD and USB port adaptors) or Illustrator (after Apple demonstrated the drawing capabilities of the iPad, why not?), you can bet your bottom dollar that they are not going to be anywhere as full featured and powerful as their desktop (and laptop) counterparts. The hardware is Apple’s very own custom silicon. The A4 system-on-a-chip made by PA Semi for its parent company runs at 1Ghz. Not exactly world class performance. And until we have industry standard bench marks, nobody can say for sure. Nevertheless, this nice Dell system runs a Intel® Core™2 T6670(2.2GHz,800MHz,2MB). A nice speed improvement, if I do say so myself. The current consensus is that the iPad has about a 1Gb of RAM. Compared to the 4Gbs in the Dell build.

Now I do a lot of typing on my laptop – whether thats for code or for taking notes or the occasional blog post. So the Keyboard is must for me. The iPad keyboard dock is an ingenious design, and would look good on just about any desktop (not to mention those nice display tables at the Apple Store). It goes along way to answering those critics who, after three years of using their iPhone virtual keyboards, still like their tactile feedback (not to mention the much improved ergonomics of writing volumes on the keyboard dock rather than just on your lap – there must be some ergonomically minded lobby that would blame apple for all the RSI around, right?). What i can’t imagine is lugging the dock all the way to uni, setting it up and then putting this tiny little iPad on it and then taking notes for three hours (mind you, after actually trying this I may change my mind, but thats months away). Equally, I can’t imagine turning up to a busness meeting armed with the keyboard dock and iPad – i’d be the laughing stock of any (Dell-dominated) conference table.

In saying that the iPhone virtual keyboard has been very good to me. If one had to graph the spelling mistakes I (inadvertently) tweet, there is a continual improvement ( a reverse hockey stick graph if you will). So I’m certainly not against the virtual keyboard on the iPad. How it will actually work, however, is another question altogether. I’m typeing this on the last Dell laptop i bought, and the keys give me firm, reassuring feedback. Not to mention the almost soothing sound the keys make as I type, the sound of success (if I an’t typing, I aint working).

Then there is battery. Now, if Apple is to be believed, the iPad has 10 hours of battery life and a month of standby. No idea if that’s 10 ours of general use, of video playback, of web browsing or music playback etc. Going by the iPhone’s track record I’m not so sure I’m always going to get 10 hours out of the thing. However, the 10 hours still far outlives the seven i had for two years with the current laptop’s 9 cell li-ion battery. And the 2 hours I’ve lived with for the past for months. And the zero hours that I’ve had for a week and a half now.

Now lets think of the gravy.

One, the laptop has no app store. On the minus side, this means that I have to source the applications I wish to run myself.  I have replacements for all the iPads built in applications. This, ironically enough, includes iBooks. Its called Kindle for PC. From Amazon. (Amazon’s actions over the weekend is a subject for another post, but read this brilliant article by the author John Scalazi). I have the Full Creative suite 3 from Adobe. I have Microsoft’s Expression Studio 3. I have Visual studio 2008 and 2010. I have SQL Server 2008. I have Office 2008 (soon to be 2010). I have a virtual swiss knife of utilities near and dear to my heart for everything from screen capture to April fools jokes.

Two, webcam. This laptop build has an integrated webcam. And the iPad does not. And yes, I’ve heard of those rumors of the camera cavity in the iPad’s frame. And yes there is every possibility that el Steveo will pull a One More Thing on launch day and announce the addition of a camera. But here we deal with certainties and absolutes, not obscure fantasies and wet dreams of fanboys. So we assume that there is no camera on the iPad version 1. But, again assuming that the SDK allows the access, the appearance of the third party webcam is almost assured. But still, I have a integrated webcam here and now.

Third, 64 bit. This is a 64 bit processor with a 64 bit OS. Need I say more?

Forth, DVD drive. For those movies I’d like to watch without going though the palava of syncing them. The benefits of having the DVD drive handy are still very much apparent, even in this age of the cloud and the on demand nature of the downloading programs off the web (legitimately, of course). The iPad is complete dependant on the internet for its software, music, and there is iTunes syncing for anything else.

The one question mark here, which I will require an actual iPad to answer, is the screen. The Dell screen is anti glare, and promises to be a significant improvement on the screen on my current laptop. The iPad screen is IPS and supposedly has a great viewing angle. According to Steve Jobs, that is. No-one has had it in direct sunlight yet, so we’ve no idea how well it handles the glare. The winner in this category will undoubtedly be Amazons Kindle (that pesky Company again).

So with out further ado, here are the specs:

Base
Vostro 1520 : Standard Base

Memory
4096MB 800 MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM (2x2GB)

Keyboard
Internal Keyboard – English (QWERTY)

Video Card
Integrated GMA X4500 HD Graphics

Hard Drive
320GB (7,200rpm) Serial ATA Hard Drive with Free Fall Sensor

Microsoft Operating System
English Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (64 BIT)

Optical Devices
8X DVD+/-RW Drive including software for WIN7

Wireless Networking
Dell Wireless 1397 Mini Card (802.11 b/g) European

Primary Battery
Primary 6-cell 56 WHr Lithium Ion battery

Processor
Intel® Core™2 T6670(2.2GHz,800MHz,2MB)

Camera
Integrated 1.3MP Camera

Colour Choice
Obsidian Black

LCD
15.4 inch WXGA+ CCFL Anti-Glare Display Anti-Glare

The obligatory iPad post.

Now, I am really excited about the iPad. now before you dismiss this post as just another fanboy rant, hear me out.

The App Store

The app store is a smart idea if only to leverage the power, dominance and success of the iPhone App Store.

There is an uproar over the fact that Apple has closed its device up.

One, Apple has very simple rules for admission into the Apps store. if you meet them, then you go in and make your money. Apple is happy since your app will not crash its perfect tablet (and looks good) and you’re happy to be in and making money.

Two, Apple has one golden rule for apps: no duplication of functionality. That’s why the Google Voice App was rejected and caused the entire blogosphere to have palpitations. This still leave considerable leeway for developers.  Note also that the iWorks applications actually have to be bought separately and installed. They are not native functionality. Hence, and if I’m reading this right, Microsoft could in theory have Office Applications on the iPad. Isn’t that fair??

Three, native iPad apps are going to be just great. It will take a while for developers to fully leverage the capability of the iPad, but we have no idea what they will come up with. So, who wants to go tot he end of cyberspace and back to find these little gems?? Not me. The App store is by far the most convenient way of discovering and installing new apps.

(Note – There are a number of apps that I love that would look wonderful on the iPad- more on this in a future post)

The iBook Store

I was seriously considering buying a Kindle 2. Its cheaper than an iPad, it has a great store, it has a great screen and it has free 3G. And, this is the important bit, has international availability. As far as i know, the iBook store is restricted to US customers only. Presumably until Apple negotiates the international rights. And apple has 2 months to do that.

Another thing worth noting:the iBook books are significantly more expensive than the Kindle books. This is a problem. A big problem. I can probably buy the dead tree version of that book for less than either of them.

Now I may only buy a few books year but that cost difference adds up.

there has been much talk of the multimedia capabilities of the device, and how publishers could leverage this in their books, but i want to see what forms this make take to see if its worth it. From that cost difference alone, my Kindle may well pay for itself.

The Wireless

Much has been made about how you have to fork out some money every month for 3G access. So what?? its a contract-less arrangement thats cheaper than AT&T’s normal data contact. being able to use it on a month to month basis makes it extremely flexible.

The fact that there is a 250Mb cap on the cheaper plan has got people frothing at the mouth. Come one people!!! I never have gone above 250Mb a month on my iPhone. Ever.

i already have 3G on my iPhone, so the 3G on the iPad is redundant. that is why I’d prefer the Wi-Fi iPad.

 

The Accessories

The Keyboard Dock is awesome. Period. Whether I actually need one is another matter altogether.

Now this is the point that has been driving me crazy with the iPad coverage. People have been complaining that the iPad has no SD or USB slots. It actually does. There are two adaptors that plug into the connector slot. The current use case for these are for camera’s. Which is great.

Think of it. I’m on a shoot. I take the SD card out and review all the JPEG’s on the iPad. I can email them as well, sort them, tag them, make notes.

Better yet I can stick my portfolio on the iPad and show clients on a beautiful, slick deice, consumerate with the standard of my work. Impressed customer?? You bet.

The Screen

This is where the Kindle really has the chance to shine. The e-ink screen needs no backlight (hence not much battery power), is easy on the eyes and can be read in direct sunlight. Whether the iPad screen will stand up to hours of use (i.e for our own eyes), and use in direct sunlight remains to be seen. I think this is a fairly compelling reason to get he kindle over the iPad.

Since teh Screen does not support Widescreen natively, the actual movie viewing area is very very small. I’m not at all bothered about that.

Conclusion

The iPad is NOT a device, or simply a platform for consuming content – having the ability to install iWorks on the iPad is one indication of that.

The exclusion of a camera does not bother me – i don’t want one.

If Steve lets me do what I wanna do, I’m happy. I wanna work with the iPad and transfer to the PC very, very easily. I wanna use it as a star Trek PADD. i wanna leverage the full eco system of applications and accessories that complement the iPhone. Who knows if Adobe will release Photoshop for the iPad??

But i am a Microsoft developer. I live and breathe in Visual Studio. There is no way I am going to ditch the laptop in favour of the iPad. I need it for work. not to mentiont hat I need it to sync the iPad in the first place (yes here are other machines, but the laptop is the most convenient one). Which is

I don’t feel that there is a compelling case for unilaterally ditching the Kindle (certainly not if Apple will let the Kindle App onto the iPad). I have a feeling that the Kindle 3 will give us more to think about. Amazon will come back at apple with Something. Even if its the mass of personalized recommendations that Amazon has on our book buying habits. I think that this is one arena that the battle is not over in.

But I will say this.

The week after its release, I’m going to the store and I’m having an hands on session with it.

And then I’m gonna by it.

The Kindle as a digital textbook (in reply to @joshchandler)

Now that the kindle is finally coming to the UK, my opinions of it are a bit more pointed.

First, I have a huge library of books The one drawback of this is that it takes up large volumes of space. So the kindle does have one major advantage for me personally. And i don’t have any problem with dead-tree printing. The downside is that none of those books are going to be on my new kindle.

Second, Josh Chandler’s post specifically highlights the use of the Kindle in collage and universities. This was a major selling point of the Kindle, and later of the Kindle DX. Being a programmer, the DX is my only option if i want it for textbooks. And the DX is expensive (if I’m only buying a few textbooks, I’m better of buying the dead-tree versions). Aside: a Zune-like subscription service would be much better.

Third, the kindle has Newspapers and blogs, plus any PDF you care to email to it. This has obvious advantages. I enjoy reading the paper every now and again. And i have a few e-books that i could see myself emailing to the kindle. Nasa, for example has a great library of Histories that are available on the web for free. Those that aren’t in PDF, I point acrobat at the address and acrobat downloads them. There’s my e-book. So again, another use I have for the kindle.

Forth. How does the Kindle handle PDF DRM on my existing e-books?? I already have a few technical books in PDF that I bought. Will i be able to use them on a Kindle??

Now the PDF standard is actually capable of far more that most people actually use it for. PDF is built for this kind of digital textbook use case. Its annotation tools, for example are second to none.

Does the kindle use this format?? No. Does it use the openPub standard that Google’s e-books are available in?? No. (as a programmer this offends me greatly). As a result, all the hype about the DX being used at Princeton etc actually has come to nought. Students rarely use it. Why?? Annotation. Remember I can WRITE, CIRCLE, HIGHLIGHT, DOODLE (and so on) on a dead-tree book.

The Kindle could do much more as a digital text book. Remember the Apple iTablet is a-coming and ,as things stand right now, given the choice between a dedicated dead-tree replacement, and a fully fledged computer/personal media player that also is a dead tree replacement and does everything the Kindle does, better, you know where I’d be going.

Coincidentally, me and my fellow students are picking honours year projects. One suggestion I made was to take the diagrams and so on from the smartBoards (they must have an API, surely), and merge them with the PDF version of the notes. (PDF has an API). Seriously, how great would that be?? Currently I draw all that stuff on my laptop (Kudos to which ever genius laid out the Ribbon in Word 2007, BTW). So what my lecturer is doing on the board magically appears on my PDF. Tie that with a kindle and you have instant student heaven/nirvana. 

If Amazon is serious about the ability of the Kindle to make a splash in the student market, these are the kinds of things it needs to be thinking about. Apple is so successful with its products because they make them indispensible. Amazon needs to do stuff like that to make the kindle indispensible for the serious student.

So it has the POTENTIAL to be the perfect digital textbook.

Will Amazon see that???