Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Reading Together, Reading for Pleasure

Posted by Andrew at 6:46 AM on November 10, 2011

Booktime LogoMore time is spent reading with children but parents are finding modern life tiring and stressful, according to research commissioned by Booktime. The average time spent by parents reading with their child (4  & 5 year olds) is now one hour 26 mins per week, an increase of 10% over 2009. 60% of parents read with children for pleasure on a daily basis.

Tiredness was cited as the main reason for shared reading not being fun, but it was the tiredness of the parents (18%) rather than the child (6%) that was the problem. Getting home from work in time was also a problem, with 30% of dads getting stuck at work.

Regardless, 71% of parents and carers said that reading with their child was always or usually the highlight of the day. 80% of the parents said that reading was associated with fun with 86% of children laughing out loud.

The book is still the main reading device (86%) but other devices such as smartphones, tablets and e-readers are becoming more prevalent. By the time a child is six, nearly a quarter of parents use technology in addition to paper-based books.

In a time of economic doom-and-gloom, this relatively minor story made my day. It costs so little to read to children especially when books are available from libraries or the Booktime programme, yet the benefits to both parents and children are immense. As a father of a 4 year old daughter, I love reading with her, especially at bedtime. It’s just us, with no distractions and we read the story together. If she grows up with a love of reading and learning, I will have done my job as a parent.

Booktime is a national (UK) free books programme for pre-school children that aims to promote the pleasure of reading by encouraging families to have fun reading together. This year, nearly 1.4 million books will be given away in partnership with Pearson.

eBooks with a Sound Track?

Posted by Andrew at 4:53 PM on August 31, 2011

US company Booktrack has just released a new concept onto the literary market – ebooks with a sound track. Yes, you read that right, ebooks with a sound track. To quote from their website, “Booktrack represents a new chapter in the evolution of storytelling, and an industry “first” in publishing, by creating synchronized soundtracks for e-books that dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and engagement. The company’s proprietary technology combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual’s reading speed.

One of the first Booktracked novels is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Speckled Band. Plenty of scope there for creepy sound effects but…

…does anyone else think this sounds (sorry) doomed to fail? I’m all for new ways of experiencing stories but we’ve done pretty well with books, radio and TV / film. Each medium has its own strengths and for me, the attraction of a good book is that your imagination creates the world in your head. Now when I read that the door creaks open, I hear it too. Surely if I want a story with sound effects, I get an audio book? Maybe I’m being too critical.

If you want to try it out, it’s available from the Apple App Store for the iPhone et al. There’s only five books available at the moment, two for adults and three for children. On reflection, children may well respond to this approach and it might encourage reading, so that changes my opinion a little. Great idea for kids, bad idea for adults.

What do you think?

Kindle Lighted Cover

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2011

Kindle Lighted Cover I have a Kindle and I grown to love it, however it’s one weakness for me is the lack of a backlight. This means at night even with lights on you need a book light to avoid shadows on the pages. Unfortunately, most book lights that are available are badly made, they are flimsy and don’t stayed hooked to the Kindle and you can’t replace the battery. Even if they work well it is one more thing you have too carry with you on a trip. I had tried a couple which were ok, but I wasn’t totally satisfied. Then I heard someone talking about the Kindle Lighted Cover. I was immediately intrigue since I also needed a book cover for the Kindle.

The Kindle Light cover is made of pebble leather and comes in 7 colors. When you first attach the cover, you have to make sure the hooks in the center are inserted correctly, that took me a little while. It has a great elastic cord that wraps around the cover. When you open the cover you can fold the cover back and use the cord to hold it. You can then hold the Kindle by one hand. In the upper right hand corner of the cover there is a piece of plastic, when you pull it out it becomes the light. The light comes on only when the Kindle is on. It is an LED light and it runs off of the Kindle’s power, so no batteries are required. The light is bright, and covers all the Kindle without a glare. It feels well constructed and pulls out fairly easily from it’s slot.

The biggest problem with the Kindle Lighted Cover is the price, most clip on book lights run from $5.00-$25.00. The Kindle Light Cover is $59.00, which seems like a lot in comparison. However you do get a cover which alone can run from $25.00 to $40.00. Plus since the light runs off the Kindle power so you don’t have to buy replacement batteries, therefore over the long run it should be cheaper. I read some of the reviews on Amazon some people have had problems with the Kindle Lighted Cover shortening the Kindle out, however most of the reviews were positive. If you have recently brought a Kindle and are looking for both a cover and a book light I would recommend the Kindle Lighted Cover.

eBooks Available in Northern Ireland Libraries

Posted by Andrew at 5:14 PM on August 7, 2011

My daughter and I are regular visitors to our local public library. She loves getting new books for bedtime reading and I love reading them to her. Sometimes the simple pleasures are best.

For my own reading, increasingly I’ve been reading ebooks on my Nook, either purchasing from Waterstones or finding free novels elsewhere on the web. Previously I had checked the library’s website for ebook loans but they weren’t available.

However this weekend, a flyer on the library’s noticeboard announced that ebook loans were now available to all members of Northern Irish public libraries. Yay! Apparently the service went live in mid-July according to the press release and it uses the Overdrive platform, which mostly uses Adobe .epub with DRM to loan the ebooks for a few weeks.

I hope the service is a success here, but the ebook reader market in the UK is totally dominated by the Kindle which doesn’t work with .epub. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has an ereader that isn’t a Kindle. There are clients for most of the mobile OSes, such as Android and iOS, so there might be some take up there.

Ok, so a bit of a niche post but I’m just pleased to get books for free!

CyanogenMod 7 On The Nook Color

Posted by tomwiles at 1:25 PM on June 28, 2011

CyanogenMod 7I’ve had my Nook Color for about a month at this point, long enough to develop a real feel for how it integrates into my life.

Keep in mind, the Nook Color is not an iPad and sells for half the price of the cheapest Apple jewell. I’ve already got the latest iPod Touch with dual cameras, so I don’t need or currently want cameras in a tablet device.

The Nook Color shines best as a word-centric consumption device. It takes the Internet and turns it into a very portable book.

To be perfectly honest, the stock Nook Color version of Android is very locked down. Besides being a good reader platform for books and magazines, you can browse the web, do email, do social networking, and run a limited but growing number of apps (mostly paid but a few for free) from the Barnes & Noble Nook Color App Store. The Nook Color stock software experience is nice for what it does, but still rather limited overall. The included stock Android browser does include the ability to run Adobe Flash. The Nook Color has a bright and very clear 7 inch widescreen capacitive glass touch screen along with about 10 hours’ worth of battery life.

What makes the Nook Color a great value at $249 dollars is its ability to boot into other versions of Android FROM the built-in internal Micro-SD chip reader without affecting the built-in Nook Color’s Android operating system.

After experimenting with different bootable Micro-SD card arrangements, the best pre-built Android solution I’ve found so far comes from http://www.rootnookcolor.com, a website that is selling pre-configured versions of Android to give a good overall tablet touch screen experience starting at $39.99 for a pre-configured 4 gigabyte Micro-SD card.

Cutting to the chase, the best version I’ve gotten so far from Root Nook Color.Com is called CyanogenMod 7, also know as Gingerbread. This version offers great battery life (almost as good as the stock Nook Color Andriod at about 7 hours) and even enables undocumented Nook Color features such as its built-in Bluetooth radio. It also comes installed with the full Android Marketplace, enabling the ability to browse, download and install most of the available Android apps, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands. As mentioned above, since it’s running entirely from the Micro-SD card slot, the stock Nook Color Android operating system remains entirely untouched and completely intact. It’s not even necessary to remove the Micro-SD card to boot back into the stock Nook Color operating system since it comes pre-configured with a dual-boot loader.

While it’s possible to play YouTube and other videos along with apps such as Pandora, by far the most use I find myself making of CyanogenMod 7 is as a highly portable news feed consumption device. I am currently compiling a list of Android apps that take the best advantage of the Nook’s 7” display and will report on these apps in future posts.

Overall, the Nook Color opertated with the CyanogenMod 7 version of Android from Root Nook Color.Com offers a genuine Android tablet experience at a bargain basement price with very good overall performance.

Unbound: Kickstarter for Books

Posted by Andrew at 3:37 AM on May 30, 2011

Launched yesterday at the Hay Festival in Wales, Unbound is the latest website to link prospective funders to creators. In this instance, it’s authors and books, rather than entrepreneurs and tech but it’s the same concept. They have an idea for a book, the story gets pitched to you, if you like it you buy the future book and if enough people buy in, the book gets written. It might also be a very cost effective way of meeting a favourite author, but more on this later.

On the website there are currently five authors pitching books, one of which is an iPad reference app. Obviously the Unbound founders are hoping that more authors will come forwards as the awareness of the site grows. You may or may not recognise all of the authors but many of us of a certain age will know Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

Each of the authors has a short video, pitching the story. The author’s page will show how many funders are required and how long the book has to get funded. Some of the books need as few as 1,500, others need as many as 5,000, most seem somewhere in between. Once you have decided that you want to support the author, you can then choose your level of funding. £10 gets you an ebook, £20 gets you a hardback and so on. There’s a bit more to the funding levels including your name in the back of the book and access to the author’s “shed”. But the best bit is that for a £250, you get to have a lunch with the author (plus the books, etc) which I think is a bargain. Admittedly, it’s not clear who pays for the lunch!

I’ll definitely be funding a couple of these – just trying to decide what level to go for. This is all UK-based, so if you are from elsewhere just check the situation. Everything’s a bit new so the FAQ isn’t as full as it could be.

Barnes & Noble Nook – A UK Perspective

Posted by Andrew at 1:04 AM on May 6, 2011

When it comes to ebook readers, I think it’s fairly safe to say that there are three main contenders in the market – Amazon with the Kindle, Barnes & Noble with the Nook and Sony with the Pocket Reader range. Three contenders in the US market that is. If you live in the UK, your choice is more restricted with only the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Pocket Reader being widely available.

Regrettably, Barnes & Noble don’t exist over here but there are plenty of bookstores such as Waterstones and WHSmith. There are others readers available too, such as the Samsung E60/E65, the Kobo, the iriver Story but I’ve never met anyone who actually has one, whereas I know several people with Kindles and Sony Readers. The latter was previously reviewed on GNC in the autumn.

Like many of my compatriots, I’ve looked longingly at the Nook while on holiday. It seemed to have the best of both worlds – although it has access to a closely integrated store in the same way as the Kindle, it reads the more open epub format like the Sony Pocket Reader can. It doesn’t have the full touchscreen of the Pocket Reader but it does replace the Kindle’s keyboard with a small colour touchscreen, which I like.

But a little research showed that Barnes & Noble won’t sell ebooks outside of the USA, so I was reluctant to purchase a Nook in case I ended up with an expensive paperweight.

Further research on the forums suggested that sideloading ebooks onto the Nook worked fine, i.e. copying ebooks via USB, so in the end, I took the risk and imported a Nook back into the UK. I only purchased the wifi version rather than the 3G version as even if the 3G worked (and I doubted it would), there wasn’t going to be much I could do with it if I couldn’t buy directly from Barnes & Noble.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after a few days of playing around.

The good news is the you can easily purchase books from the likes of Waterstone’s and read them on the Nook. The first step is to download and install Adobe’s Digital Editions on to your PC or laptop. When the program is run, you “authorise” the computer to store and manage your DRM’d ebooks (not that you have any at this stage).

Once that’s done, the second step is to go to the ebook store of your choice and purchase what you’d like to read. When you download the purchased books, Adobe’s Digital Editions will automatically launch to receive them and once completed, you can see and read them within the software.

Finally, when you connect your Nook via USB, Adobe Digital Editions will ask you if you want to “authorise” the Nook reader. After accepting this, the Nook appears as another container within Digital Editions and you can then copy your newly purchased ebooks to the Nook. Disconnect the Nook from the PC or laptop and the ebooks will appear in “my library” on the Nook. Select one of your choice and you’re reading. Excellent!

That’s the main concern dealt with so what else is good? I didn’t exhaustively try to break B&N’s regional restrictions but some content, e.g. The Daily blog, is available to be read.

Disappointingly, the built-in web browser doesn’t allow downloads. There are many ebook stores such as SmashWords which offer un-DRM’d ebooks which could be downloaded direct to the Nook because there’s no need for Digital Editions to manage the DRM. Unfortunately, when you try to download anything directly to the Nook, the web browser refuses to do it. A little irritating.

The audio player works ok, though it relies on the small colour screen to select tracks. This is fine if you have a small music collection or you shuffle the playlist, but it’s not great if you have a big collection and want to listen to ZZ Top.

If weight is an issue, Nook is definitely a bit heavier than both the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. Folio covers seem to work better on the Kindle with its latching mechanism whereas the Nook seems to rely on “pockets and elastic”.

Overall, I like the Nook. The loss of the connection to the Barnes and Noble shop puts in on a par with the non-Kindle ereaders in the UK and it’s really a choice between the touch screen of the Sonys and the colour navigation screen of the Nook. But the main point of this article is that if you are in the US and you like the look of the Nook, you can be confident that you’ll be able to purchase and read ebooks from bookstores here in the UK.

Get Free E-Books and Audiobooks at Your Local Library

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2011

My husband went to our local library the Cabell County Public Library last week and picked up a library card. If you haven’t been to a library in a long time you maybe surprise how much they have embraced new technology. One of the areas that most libraries have embraced is ebooks and audiobooks. They use a system called Overdrive to allow customers to download the books. The Overdrive system works with Mac or Windows and a multiple of portable devices including: iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Sony Readers, Barnes and Noble Nook, various Palm and Window devices. On some devices like the iPhone you can download directly to the devices.  On other devices you have to download to the Overdrive console on your computer and then transfer to the device. A full listing of supported devices can be found at Overdrive Resource Center. Once you install Overdrive on your chosen device or platform, then you are ready to download your book. The steps are as follows:

  1. click on Overdrive Icon
  2. click on Add a Website
  3. enter name of your library, zip code or city
  4. if you enter zip code or city you then have to click on the library you want
  5. log into the your library using your library id and the pin #
    the library gave you.
  6. Find the book you are looking for
  7. At that point you can either add the book directly to
    your cart or too your wish list.
  8. If someone else has the book out,
    you can put a hold on it and when
    it becomes available it will download automatically

I did run into a couple of problems while attempting to download some books. Sometimes entering the zip code work and sometimes it didn’t  and I would have to browse by state. The first time I downloaded a book I had to shut down and restart my iPhone before the book showed up on my list. I also noticed that the number of books available for download is limited. One of the reasons the number of books available are limited is because not all publishers offer their books to libraries. Some publishers are under the mistaken idea that libraries are stealing sales from them. “Public libraries are more important than some blogger,” said Potash from Overdrive. “The library is the best way to elevate your sales. The data is starting to prove it.” Unfortunately the one device that is not supported directly by Overdrive is the Kindle. Although it possible add ebooks downloaded from Overdrive to Kindle, it takes additional steps you have to be able to remove the DRM and convert to Mobipocket format. Clearly most people are not going to do this. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed, its unfortunate that library books can’t be downloaded to the most popular e-book reader easily. Despite these problems if you like to read ebooks or listen to audiobooks, try your local library on-line you maybe surprised what is available.

EnTourage eDGe, a dual screen tablet and ereader

Posted by Andrew at 12:33 PM on February 13, 2011

Jeffrey and Esbjorn hear what Doug Atkinson of enTourage has to say about the Pocket eDGe, a clamshell-style device with dual screens. It has a 7″ TFT tablet screen on one side and a 6″ e-Ink reader screen on the other. And to be clear, it’s not two devices in one, it’s one device with two screens.

The eDGe will be running Android 2.2, though the tablet screen is only a resistive touch screen and hence uses a stylus. 3G RAM, microSD slot, USB port, 2 MP camera, headphone jack and microphone round out the features. The reader supports ePub and PDF. The tablet can play a wide variety of audio and video formats, including mp3 and mp4 respectively.

No doubt it’s an interesting concept with lots of flexibility. If you are interested, it’s on sale now for around $349.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Esbjorn Larsen of MrNetCast.com.

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Ectaco eBook Readers and Translators

Posted by Andrew at 7:28 PM on February 12, 2011

Todd and Tom get together with Jerry Cimadomo and Greg Stetson of Ectaco to review their range of ebook readers and translators.

First up was is the Jetbook Mini (shown right) at $99, which runs off 4 AAA batteries giving 90 hours of continuous reading. It comes with free software which converts a wide range of ebook formats into a one suitable for the device.

Second was a new model that will be out in a couple of months. Aimed at the school market, it will come preloaded with a pile of educational material. It goes beyond being a simple ereader with features such as voice recognition so that language programs are able to give feedback on pronunciation. Around $250.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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