Category Archives: tech watch

Video conferencing: will this year by the tipping point?

Cisco_logoTalk about a tipping point.  In two separate conversations today, I heard people talk about video conferencing (VC) as an idea that has finally arrived. 

But VC is like soccer.  Every year is surely the year soccer has "finally arrived."   And every year it never seems to happen. 

But VC is much more urgent than soccer.  After all, the alternatives to soccer have not left each of us stranded for hours in a God forsaken airport, or, much worse, the captive of an overheating metal cylinder sitting on a runway.

It’s not clear exactly when our love affair with air travel ended but I believe it’s fair to say that no one is travelled with pleasure the last three years.  Everyone feels taken hostage.  Air travel, once a glamorous activity for the "international traveller", once a heroic activity for the "road warrior," is now a grim necessity for us all. 

We are primed to be saved by technology in an age stuffed with technological rescue.  But video conferencing appears to play the reluctant hero. 

One of these days we look back on constant air travel is a weird 20th century thing.  Something we no longer do anymore.  It can only be a matter of time.  If not this year, next.

And once we pass the tipping point, what else will change?

Kindle II

Kindle Product testing continued over the weekend, and the Kindle continued to please. 

The happiest surprise was the images that appeared unbidden on the screen. What looked like images of Audubon birds, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  I think these must be 19th century engravings used here because they are out of copyright.  But they work beautifully on this screen in black and white and grey.  And there is something wonderful about this ghostly image making an apparitional appearance, suddenly just there on the screen. 

The Kindle is a little funny to handle.  There are buttons on both sides, so it’s hard to grasp firmly without activating functions unintentionally.  I ended up taking Jerry Rice "soft hands" approach, holding it gently in both hands.  (Note to self, for God sake, update your sports comparisons.) I ended up taking a Lynn Swann "soft hands" approach.  Better. 

The screen is great for reading.  I spend some time reading in bed with the Kindle propped up against a pillow.  This works well.  No more having to fight the binding to keep the book open.  You can turn on your side. 

Whispernet is surprisingly robust, working for someone who lives as I do in a small town in Connecticut where cell service is sometimes spotty.  I ordered Cymbeline and it was there waiting for me minutes later.  Whispernet even delivers Gmail and that makes it a nice back up for my Sony Ericsson 810 was continues to be an almost complete frustration in this regard. 

I’ve ordered more books.  I ordered A Whole New Mind  by Daniel Pink.  Now this is a sale made by Kindle.  Which is to say I’m not sure there is enough value in Pink to pay $35.00 or whatever the list price is.  (It might be worth this and more, but at this point, without reading further, I just can’t say.)  But $9.00 I will pay.  $9.00 is a chance I am prepared to take.  I haven’t started Stalin’s ghost by Martin Gruz Smith or Lost Light by Michael Connelly, but I am glad to have them as respite against flight delays.  O’Reilly’s Radar is my only blog so far and it reads a little awkwardly on this screen. 

My Cymbeline is a Folger Library edition.  Everything that is usually supplied by the Folger is stripped out, word definitions, introductions, and the table of contents.  I only paid $3.00 for it, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.  On the other hand, if I were the Folger Library I would be unhappy.  (The culprit appears to be the digital republisher Digireads.)

I am reading Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.  This works very well. The Kindle has a way of keep track of exactly where one is.  Normally, a book of this size and this authority would leave me a little intimidated.  But the Kindle makes it possible to to proceed by small steps and perfect increments, and in the process to dwell on each passage.  I am relieved the forced march, and given the opportunity to absorb things more particularly.  Maybe that’s just me, but if it isn’t the medium in this case really is shaping the message. 

My big complaint: reading with a Kindle is like reading through plate glass.  I can’t get at or repurpose anything I find in The Wealth of Nations.  I can clip it for internal purposes.  I can make a note.  But I can’t move these off the Kindle into a blog posting say.  I don’t mind if Amazon wants to protect value with DRM.  But notes belong to me.  They are value I have created for myself.  There has to be some way to capture and repurpose them for my purposes.

Clippings_file I stand corrected.  Thanks to a comment by Jared, I had another look on my Kindle.  There are two My Clippings file.  I only saw the mbp version, which is not readable.  But there is a second that is.  So the OTHER thing I like about the Kindle is the fact that it lets me transport my notes from Kindle to other media. 

Kindle and the wealth of nations

Kindle My Kindle just arrived.  It’s a stunner.

The first thing to say is that this device is just not photogenic.  It is much more pleasing to the eye and touch than any photo, including this one, prepared me for.

My Kindle recognized me without registration.  To get things started a bought a copy of The Wealth of Nations, a little more than $3 in this format. 

It arrived immediately.  Whispernet?  Whistlenet.

The first sentence of The Wealth of Nations begins: "The annual labor of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life…"

Beautiful to read this black type on gray text (and, yes, thrilling to be one of the first people to read the master in this format).  What caught my eye was the term "fund."  We use it a lot these days, but what does it mean exactly?  I asked Kindle’s on-board dictionary.  It gave a definition and then this:

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin fundus ‘bottom, piece of landed property.’ The earliest sense was ‘the bottom or lowest part,’ later ‘foundation or basis’; the association with money has perhaps arisen from the idea of landed property being a source of wealth.  (The New Oxford American Dictionary.)

How great is that?  It is very great.  (Gives "the lower 40" new meaning, among other things.)

I used the Kindle keyboard to capture this thought  It’s little, the keyboard is, but much better than the sort of thing we must now endure from our cell phone.  Let’s put it this way: no one is going to write the next Wealth of Nations on this thing, but notes it can do.   And this makes the Kindle dramatically better than its Sony competitor.   

The design issue: The early chatter online has gone out of its way to scorn the appearance of the Kindle.  It is a good way off the iPod standard. It is not something that you need to hold, that you have to own.  But it is attractive and likable in its way. 

The cost issue.  The Kindle seems to me cheap at ~$400.  It is creates a lot of value, not the least of which is that it gives us the first credible device for the delivery and transport of the digital book.  This is $400 well spent. 

As to the cost of books, well, I think any time you can buy the work of the master for a little over 3 bucks, Amazon and capitalism have triumphed yet again.