Category Archives: Geek Culture

Amazon Kindle E-Books

Shortly after getting my HTC Evo phone, one of the initial apps I downloaded from the Android Marketplace was the Amazon Kindle app with the idea I’d probably check it out at some point. Weeks went by, and I pretty much ignored the app.

Yesterday I was talking to a good friend that is in the process of formatting e-books for an author friend of his, including formatting the books in the Kindle format. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned to him once again that I needed check the Android Kindle app out. He pointed out that there were free e-books available in the Kindle format on the Amazon website, including many books from 1922 and before that were now in the public domain, so after I finished his call I went on Amazon.Com with my computer and started digging around in the Kindle Store area of Amazon. Sure enough, there seemed to be plenty of free e-books available, so I started adding them. To get the Kindle app on my phone to synch with my Amazon account couldn’t be easier, I simply entered in my email address and Amazon password into the app. Any books in my Amazon storage area are quickly updated to the app.

Sure, some of the free books weren’t exactly my taste, but I was able to open them on my phone and finally see how well the Kindle app worked. Hummm, not bad – not bad at all. To make a long story short, I ended up finding a current book I really liked and purchased it for $9.99.

What a pleasant surprise I was in for. Reading a Kindle book on my HTC Evo is actually a good experience. The text is quite legible. The surprising part is that twice now I’ve carried the phone with me into restaurants and was able to easily read using the phone while eating. Of course, the HTC Evo has a handy built-in kick stand that allows the phone to sit on its side at an angle. I can eat and then periodically lightly touch the right side of the screen in order to make the Kindle app advance to the next page. The Kindle app even synchs the latest page I’m on back to the server, so if I open the book up again either on my phone or on my laptop, it opens up right at the exact page where I stopped reading.

At this point I have no plans on buying an actual Kindle, however I suspect I will be buying more Kindle e-books in the future. I often carry my phone around with me wherever I go, and because of the way the Kindle app works across all Kindle apps associated with my account, I have instant access to every Kindle e-book in my Amazon account storage area on every associated Kindle installation. There are often times I end up having to cool my heels waiting on something, and it’s incredibly handy to be able to use that otherwise often wasted waiting time reading. Ten minutes here and twenty minutes there really do add up over time.

All of this talk about, “Oh, the iPad has killed the Kindle” is bogus. Amazon has been very smart to put Kindle apps out for as wide a variety of devices as possible. Even if they don’t sell that many Kindle readers, the Kindle format e-book is a huge Amazon win, both for Amazon and for consumers like me.

Location, Location, Location

A few days ago I posted an article here entitled “Waxing Nostalgic” in which I reminisced about the original three Podcast & New Media Expos held at Ontario, California and how special they were.

Upon further examination, it’s suddenly become obvious to me what set these three conferences apart and what made them such a success from a social standpoint.

The thing that made the three Ontario podcast conferences unique was the fact that perfect strangers felt very comfortable striking up spontaneous conversations with each other. As a result of this comfort level, something rather remarkable happened. People talked a lot (these were podcasters, remember) and in many instances formed lasting friendships.

When the podcast conference was moved to Las Vegas, an entirely different mindset took over. In Las Vegas, strangers simply don’t feel comfortable approaching each other and striking up spontaneous conversations, even if they see that the other person is wearing a conference badge. The open, spontaneous conversation mindset generated at the Ontario Convention Center was perceived as perfectly normal in Ontario. However, being open and starting spontaneous conversations in Las Vegas would be perceived as weird and so therefore isn’t done.

This is a simple principle, yet it can have a profound effect on whether or not a given conference will be perceived as successful. I could see how conference planners could get caught up with other ideas surrounding where to hold a conference, but forget that the mindset generated in particular places is going to potentially produce very different behavior from the same people, which may or may not be detrimental. If the wrong behavior is produced by an incompatible mindset, it can spell disaster.

I believe the mindset generated by location also extends to and in part explains the old business axiom, “location, location, location” as being important to the success of a business.

Generate the right mindset in part with geography and surroundings to get people in a buying mood for particular types of products and services, and your business has a chance at being successful. Ignore this all-important mindset generation aspect of specific locations at your business’ peril.

Waxing Nostalgic

The year was 2005. The month was November. The setting was the Ontario Convention Center in Ontario, California. The event was the first podcast media expo. The phenomenon of podcasting, brought to life by Adam Curry and Dave Winer, was a bit over a year old. At least a couple of thousand podcasters as well as many podcast listeners showed up from around the world to meet each other face to face for the fist time.

Looking back in my own mind and the minds of many others who attended, it was as if there was a special magic that happened at Ontario. This first event brought a bunch of strangers together, yet it had the happy feel of a family reunion. Soon enough it would be over and time for us all to go our separate ways.

The Ontario Convention Center turned out to work especially well for in-person social networking for people who were heavily involved in this brand new form of social media. It was very easy to identify other attendees because of the convention badges. Most people were staying in the nearby hotels, particularly at the Marriot across the street from the Ontario Convention Center. People ended up milling back and forth between the convention center and the Marriot. Many people ended up meeting each other and striking up conversations at random as they accidentally met each other while walking around or just hanging out.

I was always up front about the reason I attended these podcast expos. I was there to meet people and hang out with podcaster friends. I did not sign up for or pay money to attend any of the expo’s sessions. I was there to socialize. I don’t believe I was the only podcaster who thought this way. From a social standpoint, the podcast expos held in Ontario were a tremendous success. Sadly, from an expo-promoting business standpoint, perhaps they weren’t so successful.

There would be a total of three of these expos held at the Ontario Convention Center before the gathering was moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada starting in 2008. The 2008 expo ended up being sort of lost in the middle of a mega-building probably most well known for housing the annual (and gargantuan) Consumer Electronics Show every January.

With literally thousands of Las Vegas tourists, combined with other conventions going on at the same time, meeting and socializing with the reduced number of podcasters that did make the effort to show up in Las Vegas in 2008 and later in 2009 became difficult. Gone were the happy accidental meetings. Pretty much gone was the accidental social networking aspect that had happened every year at the convention center in Ontario.

Those three magical expos at the Ontario Convention Center will never be repeated. Many of those early podcasters have moved on to other interests, as well as many of the early podcast listeners that also made a point of showing up. The social aspect of podcasting has seemed to wane a bit as larger commercial and educational organizations expanded into the space.

Podcasting is alive and well in 2010, and is taking its place in this new and continually evolving world of Internet-distributed digital media production and distribution. There are more podcasts available for download than ever before. Priorities change, and people move on.

Those first three podcast expos at Ontario, California were exceptional social networking events where many exceptional friendships were formed.

Marriage & Cell Carriers

The air is electric with heady excitement. The big day has finally arrived. “This one will be nirvana!” you tell yourself. As you enter the doors and walk down the isle, there she is waiting at the altar, all decked out in a one-use dress. Your heart races with anticipation.

There’s your dream — waiting there for you, with a pre-nuptial agreement in one hand and divorce papers in the other, complete with fine print written in legalese.

For some of us the marriage is a happy one. For others it is a marriage of convenience. And for a small number the marriage ends up going sour and costing them a bundle of money.

Am I talking about a wedding? No, I’m talking about the trip to the cell phone store.

We tend to get all excited about the latest phone models, comparing this feature set with that feature set, this screen with that screen, etc. Once we make a decision and our heart is set on a specific device, we eagerly sign the contract and end up married to a cell carrier for the life of the contract.

Devices aside, the big U.S. carriers have been making constant improvements to their networks. It’s a huge job, but there’s a lot of future money at stake.

In the realm of cell phones, I’ve always found it fascinating and somewhat telling how people will bounce from one cell carrier to the next, seemingly on a whim. If it becomes chic to talk bad about a specific cell carrier, it seems that a lot of people will change cell carriers the same way some people will worry about saturated fats or the latest diet fad.

And now we have the iPhone 4 and it’s purported antenna problem story of the past few days. At this point Apple has sold more than 3 million iPhone 4’s and the vast majority of iPhone 4 users have been happy with their new phones. Yet I find it interesting that all of this media attention about antenna problems has put doubt in the minds of some iPhone 4 owners.

That new spouse might be cheating on you…

History Is About To Repeat

I remember it well. Back around October of 2004, I first heard the word “podcast” used on The David Lawrence Show via my XM Satellite Radio. It sounded interesting, and I wrote it down on my driver logbook cover with the idea of looking it up later. I heard David mention it again once or twice over the next few weeks. Finally, in early December of 2004 I finally got around to looking it up. I found Adam Curry’s podcast, realized what it was, and knew that I felt compelled to not only listen to podcasts but get involved as a podcaster myself. This was exactly what I’d been looking for for many years – a wide variety of content that I could choose, download, and control the playback/consumption of on MY terms.

Podcasting took previously-existing elements and applied them with a new twist. MP3 files had already existed for a number of years. Virtually every computer already came with a sound card and had the basic ability to both play back and record audio. Portable MP3 players had been around for a while. Apart from Adam Curry’s and Dave Winer’s contribution of the podcasting concept and making it work, the one key element that suddenly made podcasting viable and actually inevitable was the fact that Internet bandwidth got good enough to make it practical.

Practical is an important key.

We have now passed another important milestone in terms of mobile bandwidth. Mobile bandwidth, while not yet perfect, has improved dramatically in both terms of data delivery and coverage. About three or more years ago I had experimented with streaming audio via my smartphone while driving my truck, and quickly determined that it wasn’t viable. I couldn’t listen long at all before I would lose the stream. No problem, I had plenty of podcasts to listen to.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about Pandora.Com lately, so last week I finally tried the Pandora Android app out on my new Sprint HTC Evo. To my surprise, it worked amazingly well – even in Arizona and the western third of New Mexico along Interstate 40 where Sprint still has 1XRT service. The streaming music sounded great, and the few times it did briefly drop out in a couple of mountainous areas, it automatically reconnected and reestablished the playback stream.

(By the way, a side note – I was surprised to learn that Verizon has NO data card coverage around the Kingman, Arizona area – my Verizon aircard would NOT connect in the Kingman area.)

Streaming radio via the Internet in a moving vehicle is now practical. Smartphones have also reached critical mass to the point where they are really beginning to move into the mainstream. Even though streaming Internet audio has been around for quite a few years at this point, I believe the automotive market for streaming audio is about to open up in a massive way.

Up until this point most people have felt that streaming Internet radio had plateaued or was only going to grow slowly. I believe that improved cell networks along with smartphone proliferation will create a new market for streaming audio services. The automobile has been the traditional stronghold of terrestrial and now satellite radio services. An old kid that’s been around a while suddenly has a big and growing shot at a new lease-on life.

I believe opportunities exist for streaming Internet radio stations that deliver highly specialized content. For us geeks, imagine a 24/7 tech-centric streaming station. The sky really is the limit. The cost of running a streaming station can be very low, so therefore it becomes possible and practical to narrowcast to relatively small audiences.

Technology leap frog – Developing countries are skipping the PC

leapfrogI have spent the last 10 months in the developing country of India.  You see a combination of 1st and 3rd world lifestyles here.  However the most amazing sight is the technology leapfrog you witness.  Let me explain.  Two years ago I visited here and was amazed at the number of cell phones.  A person could be on an ox-driven cart transporting wood. . . and talking on the cell phone.  On that trip two years ago, the paper ran an article describing the leapfrog.  It detailed a village without power or generators.  The people took turns every few nights walking the 10 kilometers to a neighboring village to charge the mobiles.  Amazing leapfrog.  Never had a land line, television, maybe even radio.  Straight to the cell phone.

Recently at the All Things Digital Conference, Steve Jobs talked of how traditional PC makers, including himself, had to face the uncomfortable truth that the world is going mobile.  For the developed countries that is just the next step.  For most of the world it is giant leapfrog.  In India people still live on $3/day.  They have a cell, but they will never own a computer.  The internet is growing in India, and most of it is on the mobile phone.  Many, perhaps most of the world, will access the internet only on their phones.  They are skipping the PC and not even blinking or thinking twice.

So how important is the mobile OS market?  It will rule the digital world sooner than you think.

Andy McCaskey, Jeffrey Powers Interview Steve Wozniak at HP Technology Forum 2010

Andy and Steve
Andy and Steve

Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine had a rare honor as we got to interview Steve Wozniak – now Chief Scientist over at Fusion IO – a company that works with NAND  memory for high speed / High Capacity storage.

There are two parts to the interview. The first one, Jeffrey talks about Fusion IO, Steve’s role and a how the Segway Polo is going. After switching seats with Andy, something amazing happened. The two just started talking. I couldn’t get the video queued fast enough and they didn’t see the queue in. So, I just hit the button and they continued on.

But what we did get was an amazing conversation about education, the future of technology and Steve Wozniak’s new role.

Part I

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (38.1MB)

Audio Only Version

Part II

Podcast: Play in new windowDownload (68.7MB)

Audio Only Version

Ford with Microsoft SYNC System in Ford Taurus SHO

This last week has been a pretty good one for me, for I got to review more than just a computer, printer or network. I got to review a car. Well, mostly the computer in the car, but still a very tricked out Ford Taurus SHO. A $37,000 vehicle with the Microsoft SYNC system inside.

Ford delivered the Taurus last week to my home. Blue-Grey in color, it didn’t look like the Taurus of years past. I used to drive one for work from time-to-time. That is when the car pool had one available.

However, this one was fully loaded. It had everything from the aluminum wheels to the SHO branded floor mats. It really made me feel like I was on top of my game when driving it. Not that I don’t like the current car I have – But when the time comes, I wouldn’t mind swapping for that one. As long as I can put a full drum set into it.

So let’s take a look at the car, the geeky stuff and other items inside:

The Car:

Ford Taurus SHO
Ford Taurus SHO

We’ll start out with the car itself. This is the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO with 3.5 Liter EcoBoost V6 engine. EcoBoost Technology combines turbocharging and direct injection. It basically works like a V8, but with fewer emissions. The 365 horsepower engine can get 17 city/25 highway using All-Wheel Drive (AWD).

The wheel stock was 19″ premium painted luster nickel-aluminum. The SHO uses the intelligent Access technology with Push-Button Start. All you need is the FAB close by and you will not only be able to get in your car, but also start it without taking anything out of your pocket.

The Geeky Stuff:

Inside the car was where I was focused on. It contained the Microsoft SYNC system – A navigation software package, personal media player and full Satellite / AM /FM radio. The voice recognition was from Nuance – makers of the Dragon Naturally Speaking software. Connection was through audio jack, USB or Blutooth.

Microsoft SYNC
Microsoft SYNC


The voice navigation system was fairly straightforward to understand. If you have used a Tom-Tom or Garmin system, then the SYNC navigation will be second-hand. I entered in a couple destinations and the voice guided me to where I needed to go. There were a couple times it was unsure, so it said “Incomplete data, proceed with caution”. That way, I didn’t trust the system to the point where I would drive it off a cliff.

The voice navigation was also very competent on what it was saying. “Turn left onto Ambercrombe – Turn right onto McKenna..” and so forth. I think there was only one time I noticed the voice sound digital in my travels.

You can put in new destinations, or pre-program common ones. Just in case you forget where the store is, or if this is a company car – you can pre-program the destinations so new drivers can find the route without asking for directions.

The Climate Control:

What can I say about this? April is a Hot – then Cold kinda month. One minute you have all the windows rolled down, then the next the heat is blasted at 90 degrees. To be able to have all that at your fingertips is pretty important. I do have to say, though – The actual button configuration toward the bottom was more confusing than on the SYNC system. Especially when I wanted to turn the blower up and down.

The Sound System:

Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers
Microsoft SYNC with Sony Speakers

This is by far the best sound experience I have had in a car. The 12 speakers by Sony pushing out 390 Watts brought clarity to anything I played. Podcasts and music was both enjoyable to listen to, and easy. With the Bluetooth built in, I didn’t need to connect my iPhone to a cable – although I had an option through the USB port. The 10 GB of Hard Drive storage could allow me to put my CD’s into memory.

I was a little flustered that it wouldn’t let me upload MP3 CD’s into the car. I could play the MP3 CD through the system, though. Once I had the jukebox running, I could go through the songs as easily as if they were on my computer.

Since the system has Hands-Free options, I was able to answer phone calls with my cell in the pocket. It stored all my contact info so I could just push the button and go. The Stereo would duck under the phone voice, the backup sensors or the Navigation voice if needed. It made for a comforting experience where I didn’t have to juggle for phones or cables.

The Bling:

I was playing with the interior lighting all week. There were 2 buttons on the dash – One that dimmed a series of LED lights inside the car (by the door handles, in the compartments) and another that changed the color of the LED lights. I could choose the light based on my mood, but I mostly stuck with my favorite color: Green.

What is missing?

When we talked with Ford at CES, I thought there was going to be a special uplink option for music and podcasts. I was expecting to let the car talk with a wireless system to download media. That wasn’t the case. Sure, I could have used a Bluetooth connection from the house, but it would have been nice to be able to connect to the media server and get the music and podcasts that way. This was the only thing I wished it would have.

The car specs said I had a Rear View Camera. Either I missed it or this model didn’t have one. If it did, then I am surprised it wasn’t an intuitive system.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed the ride for the week. I got to take a couple longer trips and felt comfortable the whole time. I had a few friends ride along and they really enjoyed the handling. The only thing they mentioned on the car was the design of the dashboard felt a little enclosing. It was an akward looking dashboard, but there was one big Sony speaker in the middle.

I was really happy to drive this car around for the week. I would like to thank Ford for their generosity in letting me review the system. The SYNC system is absolutely a fabulous idea and with some extras can be a very useful and very fun addition to your drive.

Fighting Fires Instead of Preventing Them

flame“There are businesses that want to make sure they keep making money by having cures that fix the last one, but not the next one.”

The above quote is from Dr. Fred Cohen, President of the California Sciences Institute, and inventor of the first ever computer virus over 26 years ago. He was speaking specifically about how virus prevention software builders are working only towards having cures, but not really towards prevention. This got me to thinking. How many of the patches and upgrades we install are done as an eye for fixing an existing problem, rather than preventing future problems?

As geek-tech workers, a more-than-fair amount of our time is spent putting out fires. Malware infected machines, network cables that have gotten chewed by mice or a rolling desk chair, trying to find a replacement cable for that syncing device that has been lost. Imagine how much time we’d have back if we weren’t busy putting out fires, and instead were looking for ways to keep us from having fires to put out in the first place.

One of my biggest beefs these days is the variety of cables needed for all the devices we have. My iPod has one type of syncing cable, my electronic note-taking tablet another, and the camera a completely different one. Then there’s the very strange cable that belongs to my Sony Ericsson phone, and the very odd mini-cable that goes to my Kindle DX. When I traveled last week, there were five different cables in my laptop case to accommodate the multiple devices I was carrying. When I set up for my presentation, my laptop’s USB ports were completely full with all of these devices as I demonstrated syncing and updating onto these multiple devices from my laptop. It was a virtual spaghetti factory up there on the podium, and I could not just plug in one cable and rotate devices around, there was a different cable for each one. No wonder people are always losing cables.

Standardization of cables and chargers would go a long way toward preventing problems these types of problems. So does decent cable management (what does it look like under your desk right now?). And in the case of malware/viruses, why aren’t we, as geek-techs, demanding that programs prevent infection, rather than cure it? If Dr. Cohen is right, and I believe he is, we are actually setting ourselves up for more fire-fighting in the future. And while that does create some measure of job security for all of us, it sure would be nice to come to work and do actual planning and development, instead of dealing with crisis after crisis.

Waiting for a new Geek Toy

waiting for the draftIf you are like me, when you get the *need* for a new geek toy, it seems that’s all you can think about in your spare brain cycles.

I’m in that boat now. As I posted before, I’m planning on getting the new Droid from Verizon. Well, I thought that my contract had ended last month on the 16th. So I went to the Verizon Store today and found out it’s not until the 16th of this month! ARGH! Of course, they wouldn’t just let me slide for the 10 days. This would have been the first time I could walk into a phone store and walk out with the latest phone. That was not to be today. So I sit and wait.

I get this feeling every time I get (or am about to get) a new piece of technology. When I ordered my Macbook from Apple, every day, I was looking on the FedEx website, tracking the progress of my new computer. When I got my GPS Device (a TomTom One) I had to go for a ride in the car just to check out all it’s options and to see how lost I could be and hit the “home” button to find my way home.

How many of you get this amazing feeling when you are about to get a new geek toy errr.. Tool? I’m sure (or hoping) I’m not the only one that gets this way.

Ok, these gizmos are just things. We lived just fine without them before. Why is it that we get what feels like a NEED for some new thing? I’m glad it works this way. It’s sort of like waiting for that special gift for Christmas or a birthday when you were a kid.

I for one am a Geek Kid at heart! How about you?