Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Feel the Bern, Vidiot

Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT) decisively won the Wisconsin Democrat Primary.  To claim victory in the land of Cheeseheads, the 74 year old Senator chose to have a bunch of young people in back of him on the dais.

During Sanders speech in Laramie, Wyoming, the candidate chose to rail against young people who are too busy with their video games.   At the same time, there was some vidiot around Sanders who was making faces on Snapchat or another video based social media.

In Sander's optimistic opinion, young people are idealistic thus progressives.  But Sander's chide about young people too busy with their video games may also reveal how there is a youthful expectation of little effort and high return.  There is also the cognitive dissonance of idealistic young 99%-ers advocating for socialism during Occupy Wall Street movement while camped out in the District of Calamity's Farragut Square or Manhattan's Zuccotti Park on their shiny new Apple i-Phones.

The question is what is the better future in which we should believe?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Re-Kindling Appreciation for Amazon's E-Book Reader

Recently, I took a trip to a quiet rural retreat where there was no television, WiFi was non-existent and internet was iffy on my cellular phone. In times past, if one quickly finished reading the books brought on a rainy weekend, it would be time to bide time by polishing doorknobs. Instead, I was able to reach for my Kindle e-ink reader and the literary world was at my fingertips.

I have reveled over Kindles since they initially came on the market.  This travel saga rekindled my appreciation for the Amazon's extraordinary e-book reader. In fact, my household is so fond of our Kindles that each of them is named.  For example, my first Kindle was dubbed  Isadore (named after the patron saint of libraries).  

While I now own several Kindles, I brought my beloved Kindle 2 Keyboard on the get-away. The Kindle 2  series had two types of Whispernet (the complimentary Amazon 3G series).  Fortunately, “Striker” was on the AT&T network, where I was getting five bars of coverage.  So I downloaded a number of samples and tried to choose my next title.  Several of the sample books displayed no more than the table of contents. A couple of sample choices included some of the preface and the first chapter. By surveying the samples, I could narrow down my choice. In fact, reading the samples eliminated titles from a couple of favorite authors based upon style and content.  

When I made my pick, I was able to buy the book and download it in one click and read away. I was excited about a couple of key passages so I highlighted the notes and shared them via Facebook and Twitter through the Whispernet 3G connection.

Although I finished a good chunk of the new book, but my eyes were closing while my mind was still active.  Fortunately, this generation of Kindles still had the text to speech option and built in speaker so a synthetic voice could read me to sleep.   The next morning, my traveling companion who is a techno-luddite seem amazed that I bought and read another book even in this remote retreat.

The Kindle came in handy as I purused other books because of the built in dictionary. The Kindle 2 has a keyboard which is OK for short notetaking, but one should not expect to pen the great American novel on it, and transferring the files can be challenging.

The feature that I treasure from this version of the Kindle E-reader is the “Experimental” internet browser.  Later versions of the Kindle e-reader restricted internet access to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  The Kindle 2 allowed for some web surfing of text based websites.  This was a God send for a news junkie like me. 

One new glitch from “Striker” is that it would not display Wikipedia listings neither from the experimental browser nor the automated Wikipedia search.  As the weekend progressed, I was disappointed as I had grown accustomed to spot checking facts and could not do so easily with this Kindle.  Perhaps on a related note, this Kindle was not recognizing the Kininstant bookmark shortener.

“Striker” is my third Kindle e-reader, as two had to be replaced because of screen problems thru Amazon’s unconditional return policy (at the time) for Kindles. The design was a marked improvement over the large cheese wedge Kindle 1. That being said, the unit did have a replaceable battery and allowed SD card storage. But the only difference that “Striker” had over my first K2 was that it was on the AT&T  Whispernet  which could get international 3G as opposed to just the Sprint CDMA Whispernet in the USA.

Alas, “Striker” was showing its age, as the Lithium Polymer battery could only hold a charge for several hours and then would immediately drain out. Perhaps this was due to battery memory as well as a battery which needed to be replaced.  I have considered acquiring a Kindle replacement battery for around $25 but I worry about doing the installation myself and bricking it.  Unfortunately, computer repair shops don’t want to take on the challenge of installation either.

Most people would be inclined just to get a new device, as surely Amazon has developed the latest and greatest e-reader.  But a Thrifty Techie realizes that it ain’t necessarily so. The Kindle Voyager and Kindle Paperwhite models (7th & 6th Generations) do have lit screens for night reading and extended battery life.  The Kindles has have  some new features like Vocabulary Builder and X-Ray title summaries.  Alas, when Amazon giveth, it has also taken away.  No longer do e-readers have speakers or headphone jacks, so text to speech is out of the question (it is available on the Kindle Fire models though).  If you pay $50 more, a Voyage or Paperwhite can have 3G capabilities, but that it now restricted to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  Amazon also sells an 8 Gig Kindle Fire tablet for $49 (which has text to speech) but the color backlit screen can cause eye fatigue for prolonged reading stints and may be tough the see reading outside. From a Thrifty-Techie’s perspective, newer isn’t necessarily better.   

I was resigned to make do with what I had, but an imminent Amazon Kindle software update forced my hand. As I was prepping my vintage e-readers for the mandatory download, I noticed that “Herbie 2", a Kindle Keyboard 3rd Gen (with WiFi) that I inherited from an inlaw was showing dead pixels.  These e-reader screens can be quite sensitive to pressure.  Herbie 1 had to be replaced when a teacup poodle sat on it. All but the top of the screen displayed correctly, but it would be maddening to use it as an e-reader.

After some investigation on E-bay, I found an upgraded used Kindle Keyboard 3rd Gen with WiFi and 3G for $32 with shipping.  This means that it would have text to speech, the ungoverned experimental browser with about 4 gig of storage (enough for 3500 books). This design does not have a touch screen, which I consider is an advantage on a dedicated e-reader, so as not having fingerprints on the screen.  The downsides are that it does not come with a power cord (but I already have several).  Another variable is the condition of the battery. 

Although I will probably have to manually do the software update, it seems like it is worth the trade off. So I am happy to include another Kindle into the Thrifty-Techie family.