Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Kindle 3 Pseudo-Review

December 30th, 2010 No comments


A few months ago Beth and I got the newest model of the Amazon Kindle.  We decided to go ahead with our purchase right when the model was coming out, so I had to wait a couple weeks for delivery.  That wait gave me plenty of time to read the reviews and write-ups on the internet about this newest e-reader.  Since there really is a plethora of full reviews out there on the interwebs, I decided to forgo a true assessment and list a few reasons why the Kindle is right for me.

  1. Portability – With our upcoming overseas move, we simply couldn’t take our whole book collection with us; with the Kindle, we can.  It is also awesome for long plane flights.
  2. Free 3G – Sure, we paid an extra $50 for 3G, but we have no ongoing fees with that.  Since we don’t have smart phones, it is awesome to have access to free portable internet where ever we are.  Granted the Kindle web browser is a bit slow and clunky, it is perfect for looking something up on Wikipedia on the fly, or for checking email when away from a computer.
  3. Extra-long battery life – The Kindle is advertised as having up to a month of battery life (assuming you leave the wireless off).  For my typical usage I am getting closer to 2 weeks.  It is great to be able to have an electronic device at hand that I don’t have to worry about recharging every other day.  An iPad wouldn’t even make it through half of a trans-Atlantic flight, but my Kindle will last my whole trip to Swaziland this March.
  4. Cheaper books – Of course I did spend roughly $200 on the device to start with, but now that I have it, most books are 30-50% cheaper than the printed version. 
  5. Book Samples – 5 years ago most of the books I read were either on recommendation of friends, or required reading for class.  Now I find a good portion of the books I buy are because I am looking for a book on a specific topic; often I don’t know which books are considered well written and which are not.  With Kindle samples, you can download the first chapter or so and get a feel for yourself.
  6. Free Classic (and other) Books – There are lots of book that I know I should read.  Many of these I have purchased, but never gotten around to reading.  Now I can have access to them, but not feel as bad if I don’t get to them immediately.  Amazon has a great collection of our public domains book and many others as well.
  7. Search books – Sure print books have indices, but that pales in comparison to the ability to search for a specific phrase.  This is very helpful for the Kindle Bible and for trying to find a particular section of a book I have previously read.  Along the same lines, I love having interactive tables of contents.
  8. Highlights and notes – This is a blessing and a curse.  I love to mark up my books when I read them – it helps me comprehend and makes it easier when I go back and skim.  While it is very handy to be able to highlight on the fly without needing to carry a pen, it is just not the same writing a note on the Kindle as it is marking up the margins of a book.  That being said, there are two "Killer Features" related to highlighting and notes.  First, you can view all your highlights in one spot, which makes skimming super easy.  Second, you can view the passages most highlighted by other users.  This is a great way to get a feel for a book and to draw your attention to key sections.
  9. Reading Experience – I know many people are hesitant about reading on an e-reader, thinking they will always prefer a good ole paper copy.  But, I absolutely love reading on my kindle.  I love the light weight and easy to hold design.  The e-ink is easy to read and the adjustable fonts are great.  I actually find myself getting less distracted while reading the kindle.
  10. Games – This is a minor highlight, but hey, I needed another to make it a round number.  The games are nothing special, but they are great for passing the time while on the road or looking to kill a few minutes of time.  Many of the word based games are free and slightly educational.

Mixed feelings on my Tomtom GPS

June 21st, 2010 1 comment

The other day I took most of my birthday money and bought a new GPS (I say new, because I already have a 10 year old hand held backpacking model).  I have been researching then for a while and was looking for something I could use here and in Swaziland.  I ended up getting a great deal at Best Buy on a Tomtom XL 340 and so far have been pretty happy with my purchase.

It does some pretty snazzy stuff.  It has lane guidance so you know how to navigate interstate transitions.  It has a huge number of pre programmed points of interest.  It calculates trip time on the fly based on actually average speeds for each road.  It has audible turn by turn directions.  It was great this week for our trip down to Tallahassee.  You could take backroads without having to worry about watch road signs.  It was easy to find out what sort of amenities were at each stop.  It allowed us to take a few shortcuts on our way down.

As nice as it has been, I have some misgivings about the thing.  You see, I am generally pretty good with directions.  I can glance at a map and be able to get around a city with relative ease.  I am good at being able to keep my bearings and guess which road to take if our trip takes an unexpected route.  I am great at reading a map and being able to plan a trip.  The problem is, when you have a GPS that does it all, those skills are not only unnecessary, they are actually diminished.

On this most recent trip, despite knowing my latitude and longitude down to a few feet, there were many times when I did not know where I was.  Because I no longer needed to plan my route or keep up with roads I was passing, I found I was not as well acquainted with the city or how road systems ran together.  It was easy for me to the closest Zaxby’s, but if someone asked me how to get there later, there is no way I could have told them without relying on th GPS.

Perhaps I am just being sensitive because previously my map and directions skills were valued and recognized and now anyone with $100 can look like Magellan; but, I think there is something more to it.  Simply put, I think a GPS like my Tomtom is great for getting around, but is horrible for knowing where you are.

Then again, maybe I am just a luddite.  I am sure I would probably decry the advent of the calculator as being the end of our math skills.  At the end of the day, while I appreciate its convenience, I would never trade my skills and experience.

Documentaries on Netflix

September 21st, 2009 No comments

A while back Beth and I subscribed to Netflix.  I originally signed up because I wanted to be able to watch a documentary recommended to me by a friend.  After going through the trial period, Beth realized it was an excellent resource for getting TV series (she is currently watching season 4 of Gilmore Girls) so she can keep herself entertained during late night feedings.  Since we became members, I have fell in love with the online streaming.  Netflix has a great selection of documentaries you can watch instantly from your computer.  This has been a great for me as I often watch these while feeding Mikayla or cleaning the house.


I just went through my viewing history to review the documentaries I have watched in the past few months.  You will notice a clear trend towards science / tech related films.  I have many social justice type films in my que waiting to be watched, but I find I prefer shows about the history and future of science.

I have included a brief description and rating for each documentary I have watched in the past few months:

  • Sick Around the World – Frontline program on the health care systems of various developed countries.  While obviously in universal health care, the host speaks to several critics and explores many of the difficulties of such a system. (7/10)
  • The Medicated Child – Frontline program on the increase of medication in children for various mood disorders.  It is eye-opening see the levels of medication some children are on to “be normal” and worrying when you realize how little research there is into many of these medicines. (8/10)
  • Car of the Future – Nova program on alternative automobile technologies with the hosts of Car Talk.  I love automotive technology and “green design” but what seals the deal for me is having Tom and Ray along for their witty insights.(9/10)
  • Beavers – Imax movie on… you guessed it… beavers.  Helped pass the time while cooking dinner one night, but not very insightful or captivating. (6/10)
  • The Manhattan Project – short Modern Marvels documentary on the making of the atomic bomb.  I have done quite a bit of reading on the subject and this was a great survey of the process.  (7/10)
  • Rat Attack – Nova program on the 48 year cycle of bamboo fruit and the subsequent rat explosion in south central Asia. The lead scientist on this program was a bit of a goof ball, but the coorolation between rat populations and the food supply was fascinating. (8/10)
  • The Spy Factory – Nova Program on the NSA and their role in responding to the September 11th attacks.  The title is a bit misleading, this documentary really had nothing to do with spies and everything to do with how the NSA has used technology to track terrorists (and citizens).  (8/10)
  • Blue Planet – Multi-part documentary on oceans and ocean life. I have only watched a few parts off and on, but the footage is incredible and the story lines are excellent. (9/10)
  • The Natural History of the Chicken – Documentary on the roll chickens play in American life. Watched this with Dad when he was here.  Entertaining, but a bit scattered in scope. (7/10)
  • King Corn – Documentary on American’s reliance on corn and the dangers of it. I became interested in this after watching the director on The Daily Show.  I haven’t finished it yet, but have enjoyed what I have seen. (7/10)
  • The Great Robot Race – Nova program on the quest to produce fully automated off road vehicles and the competition surrounding it.  I love shows on emerging technology and this program did a great job of covering the science / tech while providing a captivating story line.  (9/10)
  • Man on Wire – A documentary on one man’s covert attempt to tight rope walk between the twin towers. First heard about this documentary from Patrick Schreiner.  I was not familiar with the story so it was fun to watch it unfold.  The interviewees were so excited to tell their story that it really pulled you in. (8/10)
  • Extreme Ice – Nova Program on the changing landscape of the polar ice caps.  Originally watched this on TV when it aired on KET, but rewatched it later.  Interesting to see the physical changes of such desolate places.  To make it even better, one of the helicopters shown in the film is one of the first helicopter I ever rappelled out of: N193EH.  (8/10)
  • Born into Brothels – Documentary from a photographer on her time with children of prostitutes.  The message of the film is strong enough to get you through the slow sections. (8/10)
  • Helvetica – Documentary on the history of modern type design and the place the ubiquitous font Helvetica.  I first became aware of Helvetica through a friend of mine Jon Merklin.  The documentary is actually quite fast moving and interesting despite the seemingly mundane topic.  I even wrote a blog post about it earlier: Evolution of type design and the quest for Christian truth (9/10)
  • Stealth Technology – Modern Marvels program on the history and development of stealth technology. Yet another technology type documentary that is entertaining and enlightening. (8/10)
  • Nobelity – A series of interviews with Nobel laureates about the future of the world and challenges we face.  I watched this at the recomendation of a friend.  A bit slow moving, but the final interview with Desmond Tutu makes it worth watching the whole thing. (8/10)

Fixing the Blank Screen on my Macbook Pro – Deleting the sleepimage

August 24th, 2009 38 comments

In the midst of a super-busy week I experiencing a heart-sinking feeling: I opened the lid to my macbook pro and all I got was a blank screen.  Earlier in the day I had closed my computer to take it with me to meeting.  Every other time it simply went to sleep and then “woke up” when I opened the lid.  If I had left it unplugged for a while it would take a bit to start up, but this time I got nothing.  I tried charging it, but then when I tried starting it, I would get the start up sound, but then just a black screen staring at me.  It would accept some start up commands (like zapping the PRAM), but beyond that it was dead.  I thought it might just be the screen went out, but it was obvious no other functions worked (i.e. volume, keyboard brightness, etc.).

Blank Screen on a MacBook Pro (obviously not mine).

Blank Screen on a MacBook Pro (obviously not mine).

After trying everything I could think of, I finally found a message board that suggested it could be a corrupted sleep image.  After deleting the corrupted file, I was able to get things running.  It was such a frustrating and nerve-wracking experience, I figure I could go through the steps I took and hopefully save someone else some grief if encounter a similar problem.  Here is what I did to fix my problem.

  1. Start your macbook (pro) in target disk mode
    • Connect your computer another mac via firewire.
    • Start up the working mac and then press the power button on the mac that is not working
    • While it is starting, hold down the “T” key.
    • Your mac should show up as an external hard drive in the finder of the other mac
  2. Delete the Sleep Image
    • Open Finder in the working computer
    • Press CMD+Shift+G
    • Enter “/volumes/Your Computer/private/var/vm/” where “Your Computer” equals the name of the broken mac as seen in Finder.
    • Delete the “Sleepimage” file
      • I also deleted the “swapfile0” file which was there, but I am not sure if this is necessary.
    • Empty the Trash
  3. Delete the Extension files
    • Navigate to the /System/Library folder on the broken mac
    • Delete the “Extensions.mkext” file
      • I also deleted the “Extensions.kextcache” file which was there, but I am not sure if this is necessary.
    • Empty the Trash
  4. Eject the broken mac just like you do a regular external hard drive.
  5. Press the power button on your mac if it is still running and remove the firewire cable.

If everything goes like it should, your macbook (pro) should work like normal.  I immediately backed up all my important files and disabled sleep mode via the preferences pane.

Note: The first time I tried this I followed the directions found here, but it did not work.  I tried it again and deleted the additional files noted above and emptied the trash can and everything worked that time around. HT to for getting me in the right direction.

UPDATE: For me, this problem escalated from a one time thing, to a frequent occurrence, until finally I could not shut the computer off without getting the blank screen.  I took it to the IT Department at the University where I work.  They ended up sending it off to Apple who replaced the Nvidia graphics card.  Even though my MBP was out of warranty they replaced everything free of charge because this is a known issue for them.