Thanks, KindleTools Users!

Kindle 2 with M-Edge Leather Platform Jacket and optional e-Luminator 2 book light.

I just wanted to shout out a quick “thanks” to the thousands of Kindle fans that have used the Kindle Tools website to find the PIDs for their Kindle devices. I’m aware that the site doesn’t fully support all models and variations of Kindle hardware devices and software applications, but I am supporting the site and hope to do so one day. The public-facing portion of the site is super easy to use and I never expected it to generate the traffic that it does, especially considering it’s a “one-time use” kind of tool. It’s very encourage to periodically receive a package in the mail gifted by a grateful Kindle Tools user off my wishlist. I generally don’t reply but do get these tokens of apprecation and your support is VERY much appreciated.

Let’s all continue to support the Kindle community and Amazon.com, while simultaneously insisting on open standards, free data interchange, and the non-proprietary future of our data in the ebook domain. The last thing we want is non-interoperable ebooks, so make your voice heard!

2010 Libertarian Primary – Governor Candidate Comparison

If you’re a registered Libertarian in Arizona you may have noticed that, in most districts, you don’t have many candidate options. In my district, the only real choice was for state governor. You can quickly make that decision in about 45 minutes by reviewing the following material.

All have variances in opinion and political approach. If you’re voting on the candidate most likely able to compete against the democratic and republican candidates I’d recommend either Barry Hess, who tends to come across as a somewhat robotic career politician, or Bruce Olsen, who is less charismatic but is definitely decent with words and speaking on camera. Hess is the more politically experienced of the two… but again, the robot thing.

If you’re voting primarily on core principles, note that Alvin Ray Yount seems to be playing up the God/Christian card fairly heavily, based on his website and opening remarks on the PBS debate. Whether this is bad/good is of course a matter of perspective. 🙂  Personally I find it odd for a Libertarian candidate to be pushing this, and it has pissed me off to the point of dismissing him as a candidate. Cavanaugh… well, to be honest, doesn’t seem to be firmly on top of things in terms of both his knowledge and campaigning ability. So that only left Barry Hess and Bruce Olsen.

My biggest deciding factor for picking the next Arizona Governor is approach on fiscal solvency, most notably in balancing the state budget. (Both have various details worth reviewing on their respective websites.) Their approaches to border security are also considerably different. Olsen wants to build a fence; Hess is more interested in tech-based borders.

Hope these brief notes have helped! If you were lame and didn’t register for the primaries in time, you can still register for the November 2nd, 2010 general election before the October 4th, 2010 deadline.

2010 Arizona Citizens Clean Election Commission .PDF Downloads

Arizona Voters: A .pdf (70MB) version of the giant tree-wasting booklet published by the Citizens Clean Election Commission that you may have received in the mail–the one with little blurbs/statements on all the candidates–can be found here. Other currently relevant publications from the AZ CCDC can be found here.

General elections are just around the corner, so please forward this information to your Arizonan friends and encourage them to spend the 5 minutes to register to vote via the Service Arizona website.

South Korea Travel Tips For United States Travelers

Interesting tidbits on Seoul for United States travelers:

  • The food is generally awesome, though the beef sucks and is more expensive. If you decide to try American-style fast food, expect variations customized to the locale. (For example, the McDonalds I tried had “Bulgogi Burgers” as the #1 combo item. Interesting to try, but still McDonalds.) If you eat a lot of wheats and grains, expect to switch over to many more rice-based foods such as rice noodles, pastries, and plain old rice. Seriously … that’s just the culture and you’d be wise to just deal with it.
  • With a few excepts–most notably watermelon–fruits are generally not served often. Many native and healthy vegetables are frequently served cold with most meals, generally covered with regional spices. The kimchi (김치) is generally excellent, as you’d probably suspect. If you haven’t ever had it… well, you’ll have plenty. 🙂 It’s a huge cultural staple in Korea.
  • If you look white, people will generally do their best to speak English to you, if they can. If you look Korean, they’ll almost always speak Korean. The general rule of thumb is that the more a type of job makes, the more likely it is that the person will speak English. In other words, don’t expect English skills from store clerks and restaurant staff. For those people looking Japanese or Chinese I couldn’t discern any obvious prejudacies, though I’m very “white” looking and don’t speak the language so I could easily be missing obvious cues.
  • The subway system in Seoul is huge (as is Seoul itself with over 10 million people), and is akin to the systems in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Most subway signs and ticketing machines have English, though announcements in Korean can be a little difficult to discern for native English speakers. I would advise at least learning the basics of the Korean alphabet (Hangul) and pronunciation rules so you at least sound out words only written in Korean, albeit extremely slowly and with a horrible accent.
  • WiFi connectivity in disappointingly similar to U.S. cities. That is, in urban areas it’s generally within range but paid hourly/daily (such as in hotels, Starbucks, coffee houses etc.), or if you’re lucky you’ll infrequently find a decent free open access point. It’s pretty much non-existent in rural areas.
  • Most sink faucet handle operate the reverse of U.S. handles to operate water flow. (In the U.S. you pull up or “lift” the handle to turn on the water, here you push down.)
  • Almost all places seem to have toilets available (as opposed to just squating over some sort of hole), so I wouldn’t worry about that. All respectable establishments seem to have toilets. Some have bidets.
  • For various cultural reasons, Koreans tend to be very clean, especially when it comes to floors. Remember to take your shoes off before entering peoples homes. Some restaurants will require you to do the same, particularly those here you sit on the floor, which makes sense.

The $1K CD/DVD/LightScribe Replicator: The DIY Guide To Manufacturing Your Own Discs For Less Than $1 Each

This do-it-yourself replicator features eight Lite-On CD/DVD burners. By flipping the disc over you can burn images onto the top using the drive lasers.

I’ve slowly updated components of The $1K Home Studio over the last few years, but have never had a low-cost, DIY solution for disc replication. After playing with external CD burners and evaluating various proprietary hardware options such as the Aleratec auto-flip burner , MicroBoard tower replicators amongst many others, I decided that the current commercial solutions are nice, but most definitely overpriced. So I decided to develop my own solution. This custom-built behemoth is built from common off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware from Fry’s Electronics and inexpensive commercial software. It costs less to own than commercially branded replicators, and also functions as a normal desktop computer since it runs Windows 7 and Linux. (I took care to also buy a Gigabyte-brand motherboard that supposedly supports the OSx86 (“hackintosh”) project, but have had little success with the installation.)

Hardware

  • Intel i5 750 64-bit CPU. (Features 4 cores.)
  • 4GB RAM.
  • 8 x (yes, eight) Lite-On CD/DVD 5.25″ SATA burner drives.
  • Gigabyte motherboard with lots of SATA ports.
  • Add-on SATA card. (Most motherboards won’t have enough connectors, especially if you have 8 x burners plus 4 x hard drives. 🙂 )
  • Big-ass power supply. (The first one I bought wouldn’t even boot the thing. I put in a monster and everything started working.)

Software

The point of all these burners is to burn simultaneously to all of them, but Windows 7 and OS X cannot do this out of the box. Only a small subset of CD/DVD burning software on the market supports parallel burning, and some only seems to support multiple burners for specific types of burns. What’s worked best for me so far is…

  • Nero Multimedia Suite 10 for concurrent audio and data burning with multiple burners. You don’t have a lot of easy-to-use alternatives here, and I’ve also noticed a few glitches with Nero. Keep your eye out for sales here and you can pick up a copy dirt cheap.
  • Acoustica CD/DVD Label Maker for concurrent LightScribe replication across multiple burners. Again, not a lot of options here. The free software from LightScribe.com does not support multiple burners, though some vendor-specific bundles seem to. (LaCie’s LightScribe software in particular appears to support simultaneous LightScribe burns, and they also have a Mac version. I would have went with a Mac-based solution, but 8 x USB 2.0 drives probably would not work so well.)
CDs burned with LightScribe technology. Discs come in many different colors.

I decided to create all my replicated discs using LightScribe technology. This allows me to flip LightScribe CD-Rs upside-down in the burner and use the laser to burn custom graphics onto the top of the disc. I also made the command decision to use COTS cd sleeves instead of CD Jewel cases or slimline cases. The plastic ones are more expensive, always crack, and are pretty much useless from the start since most people seem to rip their CDs nowadays anyway. Sleeves protect the disc, come in many colors, are far less expensive, even cheaper in bulk, and perhaps best of all can be printed on directly though ordinary laser and ink jet printer.

The system runs Windows and Ubuntu. Additional drives are interchanged using hot-swap SATA drive modules.

System Pros

  • Inexpensive initial fixed cost of hardware parts and software licenses.
  • Inexpensive variable cost per disc since LightScribe labeling uses the drive laser instead of ink. There are no costly consumables to replace. (Ordinary LightScribe media purchased in bulk works great.)
  • Quick data, audio and LightScribe replication using 8 concurrent burners.
  • Doable by anyone capable of building of PC with a little time can build one.
  • Functions beautifully as a normal desktop computer.

System Cons

  • Not completely automated like some commercial units because disc loading, unloading and flipping (if using LightScribe) is a manual process.
  • Still uses CD-Rs. These are not the same as commercially pressed mass media discs, but a lot cheaper.
  • (This one is only applicable to audio.) I’ve yet to find inexpensive parallel burning software that can handle DDP images. (The standard in “Red Book” audio CD mastering.)
  • Since LightScribe labeling uses the drive laser instead of ink, disc labels are grayscale only. (Note: You have a lot of options in disc color, though, so it’s not a big deal. Just use your creativity.)

Replication Process Overview

Label four empty CD pancakes to manage the assembly line replication process. If you don't you'll get your disc piles confused!

My primary purpose for this buildout is to replicate audio CDs as quickly as possible for Sonic Binge Records: the awesome music production company. In particular, I need to quickly replicate a pancakes worth (usually 25-50) of audio CDs as inexpensively as possible. After much trial and error with the process, this is what I’ve found works best.

  1. Create final CD master image. (For me that’s using WaveBurner on a Mac. For replication purposes it doesn’t really matter as long as the master is good.)
  2. Take four empty CD pancake containers and label them “Blank”, “Burned”, “Labeled”, and “Ready” to create an assembly line process. You can of course save these for future jobs.
  3. Use Nero Burning ROM to replicate batches of 8 at a time. When they’re done, be sure to put them in the “Burned” stack so you don’t get burned discs confused with “Blank” discs.
  4. While they’re burning, create a square grayscale graphic for LightScribe burning. (Free label creator software is available, though anything like Photoshop works too. I usually use a combination of Photoshop and Acoustica.)
  5. Use Acoustica to label batches of 8 at a time. Each batch will take a while. Full-disc burns seems to take around 30 minutes per batch: much longer than the data/audio side of a standard CD-R. Moved discs to the “Ready” pile when they’re done. (Note: The “Labeled” pile is for discs that have been LightScribe labeled but not burned with data or audio. You can end up in this situation when using multiple computers to do burning.)
  6. While they’re burning, use your favorite document application to design your printed CD sleeves. I’ve started buying color variety packs in bulk packs of 300 to keep options high and costs down.
  7. Bulk print the entire order of sleeves in a single run. As long as you can set the size of the feeder tray, your existing feeder should work fine. (CAUTION: remember that the “window” is made of plastic, and can melt if exposed to heat. Think twice before trying your laser printer. 🙂 )
  8. Take discs from your “Ready” pile (as they finish getting labeled) and slip them into sleeves to create the final product, suitable for general distribution. The imaging lasering adds a great, distinctive touch, and of course you can get as creative as you want with the sleeves, too.
  9. Done! (aka beer time.)

Costs

  • Fixed: ~$1K for the machine build, with about $400 of that just for the burners. I reused/reposed parts from old junker machines where I could, and could have saved some money by buying online. I was in a rush and just went to the store.
  • Variable: Roughly $0.40 – $1.00 per disc, depending on the disc quality, packaging, ink etc. you decide to use for each project. (All things considered, the $0.40 version looks pretty decent!)

Closing Thoughts

If you’re a musician without computer skills I would not recommend attempting this project, but if you feel fairly comfortable putting together machines, it’s honestly not that hard. It’s just a PC, after all. (Disclaimer: I do have a degree in Computer Science and Engineering, so my perspective of “not that hard” may be a bit skewed.)

I hope you’ve found this rough how-to guide both inspirational and informative. It’s very useful to have a replication machine handy, and if you’re actively working with people on projects intend for distribution it’s a great investment!

Please use this comments section for all your general comments and questions and I’d be happy to address them. Thanks for reading!

Book Review of DIY U: : Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education


Question: If I complete my general physics and mathematics studies using freely available MIT OpenCourseWare content on my own time, computer science study on campus at ASU Polytechnic, and general education requirements at UoP, all for a degree program at Berkeley, what’s wrong with that? After all, as long as I can demonstrate the competancies outlined in its program of study, isn’t this effectively more-or-less the equivalent of the Berkeley-delivered version costing possibly 10x more in total? Good for me… right? And if so, who cares?

Answer: Hundreds of years of authoritative people vetted in an aggrandizing aristocracy of exclusionary education. That’s who.

Universities best interests are not necessarily aligned with those of students, and as DIY U explores, the differences can be disheartening to the point of infuriating. Given a long-established tradition of prestigue through extreme selectivity and absurd financial requirements, it is understandable that many universities are struggling to find their way in the Information age.

I enjoy looking at political issues though numbers, statistics, historical analysis, and really any sort of empirical evidence lending insight to the world around us. With regards to education, it is obvious that we have yet to fully realize how Internet-enabled technologies fundamentally change how we should perceive learning, and due to the explosive growth of exploratory online systems it is critical we define realistic paths to evolve traditional, costly, centralized, campus-oriented, course-based university programs to the increasingly decentralized, affordable, online, multi-national, outcome-based demands being pushed by current generations of students. DIY U investigates this gap using historical evidence, anecdote, current statistics, and critical analysis: exactly the type of writing I look for in subject matter of high debate.

Of particular interest to me are the many statistics on past, current, and projected future costs of higher education. Not that this should be shocking, but the gist is that the current model just isn’t going to work if we really want to positively improve the general education level of the American population. (And I think the whole world would nod in violent support of this goal.) Simply using federal subsidies to (attempt to) expand an already antiquated model of education would be outright foolish.

I also particularly enjoyed the sections on different paradigms actively being used to varying degrees of success, specifically outcome and competency assessment-based learning. I’ve attended four higher-ed schools to date, and find the requirements of having to take specific course line numbers at a specific college for a specific degree program within a single university in the 21st century to be unacceptably, and quite literally, “old school”. As someone who’s said “I could have tested out of that class” numerous times, the concept makes sense to me.

If you find these topics interesting, by all means pick up copy of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. I purchased my Kindle version for about $10 on Amazon.

Amazon Kindle 2 Review

Kindle 2 with M-Edge Leather Platform Jacket and optional e-Luminator 2 book light.

The Kindle 2 is my first commitment to electronic books and e-ink screen. I silently waited until several generations of eBook readers were on the market–including the Barnes & Noble Nook–before making the decision to commit to Amazon’s Kindle 2.

Physical Interface

The 6″ e-ink display that looks just like the paper of a novel you’d buy at the grocery store. Unlike computer LCD displays, the Kindle’s screen is reflective, making it easier you to read outside in natural sunlight, just like a real book.

The built-in keyboard is extremely useful, though a tad clunky feeling. It is built with physical buttons (as opposed to “soft” or “virtual” buttons used on devices like the iPhone), and takes some getting used to, especially when searching a book and navigating a variety of different screens and dialogs. Despite a bit of awkwardness that is difficult to verbalize, it’s invaluable to have these controls, especially for searching and note taking.

Internet
One of the coolest features is the built-in 3G cellular radio that is tightly integrated with the Kindle Store and works similarly to the “One-Click Checkout” feature offered by Amazon. You can usually download a sample chapter before purchasing, and of course “upgrading” from samples to full copies is very straightforward and easy.

For individual subscription charges you may also subscribe to a gamut of periodicals and blogs. While it may seem strange to offer paid subscriptions to content you can often view for free online, the Kindle versions of the content are repackaged to support the navigational structure and user interface of the physical devices, provided a more fluid experience when bouncing between your regular reading material.

Using the built-in keyboard and 4-way joystick-like device, you can even use a built-in web browser to surf the internet in a bind. Surprisingly, there are no monthly services charges for this ability, though the device clearly is not designed for web surfing. Even with free 3G service you’ll usually use your phone, laptop etc. instead.

Formats

All purchases (including subscriptions) are automatically delivered wireless to your Kindle. I’ve generally found Amazon’s “delivered in less than 60 seconds” claim to be true: even when cruising through a barren Nevada desert.

You have the ability to read your own .PDF, .TXT, .MOBI, .DOC and other documents, and are provided a free service to convert your documents to the Kindle’s native .AZW format. Note, however, that .PDF files, while displayed, cannot be re-layed out to fit the size and orientation of the screen. Constantly having to zoom in and out is annoying, so you’ll often want to convert to .AZW before transferring content to your Kindle.

Synchronization

At time of this writing, Kindle content can be managed and accecssed in four ways, the…

  • Kindle itself.
  • Kindle website.
  • Free iPhone application.
  • Free PC application.

Content purchased using the Kindle Store–via any of these interface–can freely sync amongst them, assuming they are all tied to the same Amazon account. After a piece of content is purchased, it is automatically backed up on Amazon’s servers, allowing you to delete it from the device today and easily restore it (even to a different device) sometime in the future.

Note that documents you load onto the Kindle (via a USB connection to your Mac or PC, or wirelessly for a nominal charge) will not be backed up to Amazon’s systems, nor can they be automatically synced between interfaces. It would be fabulous to have Amazon back up my own Kindle content, though since it wasn’t purchased from Amazon it seems reasonable to not offer this service. (Note to Amazon: I would pay for this feature!)

Audio

Kindle 2 with M-Edge Leather Platform Jacket and optional e-Luminator 2 book light.

The text-to-voice software turns out to be surprisingly useful. Some words, as you would expect, are consistently mispronounced and a tad distracting, but not so much as to detract from its use. Using both the built-in headphone and built-in speakers, you’ll find yourself being read to in the car, walking around campus, the grocery store.. pretty much anyway you’d normally listen to music. Mispronounced words that are a tad annoying:

  • “idea”. It is being pronounced EYE-DEE-AYE.
  • “live” as in “alive“. It is always being pronounced as in “olive“.
  • Some abbreviations that look like Roman numerals. I’m sure this is a hard one to fix, but it’s nevertheless distracting to have the sentence, “I was at the IV [pronounced EYE-VEE] office yesterday.”, but hear “I was at the ONE-FIVE office yesterday.”

There is also an “experimental” MP3 player built in. It is in no way even comparable to the interface or features provided by iPods, but nevertheless a “nice to have” feature. I use it rarely since I already carry around an iPhone and use iTunes for media management.

Additional Software Features

Online access to bookmarks, highlights and notes of purchased books.

Things you won’t be able to live without once you get used to them:

  • Search. One of my biggest issues with traditional, printed texts is the lack of a trivial way to search them. On the Kindle, you just start typing and hit the enter key. What’s even better is that you can easily switch the search index from the current book to sites like Wikipedia.
  • Built-in dictionary. Just position the cursor before a term, and a small footnote will appear on the bottom of the screen. (Anecdote: I just found myself physically poking a word in 10-pound textbook, as if some dialog were to materialize in the air above. As I chuckled to myself I realized that I was now addicted to eBooks, and was unlikely to ever go back.)
  • Bookmarking. The concept of a “bookmark” is only slightly different than in the physical world. Since content in the electronic world is usually defined separately from it’s presentation, layout is based on personal preference (bigger vs. smaller text), screen size (Kindle 2 vs. the larger Kindle DX), font (Helvetica vs. Arial), orientation (portrait vs. landscape), and numerous other factors. This make the concept of a “page” obsolete, because chapter 3 of a new book may appear on page 47 for one person and 32 for another. Instead, we now have “locations”, which assign a sentence or paragraph a number that can be looked up regardless of how the content gets layout out.
  • Notes.  If you like to “write in the margins” of traditional books, you can do effectively the same thing on the Kindle. Just move the cursor to wherever you want your note, click the directional-pad button, type your note, and then click the button again. You’ll now see a handy interactive superscript symbol at the insertion point. These notes also get written to a plain text file that can be read when the Kindle is plugged in via USB, at “documents/My Clippings.txt”
  • Highlighting. I love taking a bright yellow highlighter to a good non-fiction book. You can not only do effectively the same thing on the Kindle, but this metadata also becomes saved in a new file that is synced back to Amazon’s servers, allowing you to easily browse your highlights, notes and bookmarks via the web, even without your Kindle handy.

Cons

Home screen of the Kindle 2. Displayed: several purchased books and a variety of "samples" from the Kindle Store.
  • Purchased are DRM’d, and cannot (yet) be shared. I waited until the release of the Nook to make a purchasing decision because of B&N’s claim that you would be able to “loan” purchased content to friends, but the feature is, in my opinion, way too restrictive to be a prime selling point.
  • Software feels clunky, especially for someone accustomed to lots of intuitive Apple-designed GUIs. 🙂
  • Screen is slow to update, though none of the other readers on the market seem to be noticeably better.
  • Does not come with a case.
  • Keyboard could be much better.

Conclusion

While not without its flaws–most notably slowness of the screen to update–I love the Kindle and keep it with me whenever possible. For me, the Kindle is more than just a gadget. It represents a fundamental change in the way I interact with written knowledge, and resets my expectation accordingly. I fully expect large-scale consumer transition to e-ink-style display to be rocky due to nasty web of vendors, publishers and authors all vying to dominate the market early, but for the avid readers out there, it’s worth it.

Why Amateur Musicians Use Macs

While discussing tonights U2 concert in Phoenix, I got into a HUGE argument with a Linux user over why amateur musician/producers would have to be mentally challenged for *not* making a Mac their first investment over Linux and Windows. Since the proof is in the ear pudding, I wrote, recorded and mixed this U2-inspired acoustic/vocal jam (aka “rip off”) in 4 hours using only a 2.4GHz MacBook w/4GB RAM, OSX Snow Leopard, GarageBand, *built-in laptop microphone*, iPod earbuds, ghetto-fabulous Fender acoustic guitar and 2 vodka tonics. (In other words no fancy microphones, A/D converters or other hardware.) The noise at the beginning and end is the sound of the MacBooks fan running at full speed, but other than that (and some really sloppy pitch correction patchwork) I’m not aware of any software that ships with Vista, 7, or any modern Linux distribution that can do anything REMOTELY close out of the box in more-or-less the same amount of time. If you think otherwise, prove me wrong!

Download “It’s Alright” MP3.

(Truthiness: I cheated *slightly* by jumping into Logic Pro 9 for the pitch correction part since I was lazy and didn’t want production to take more than 30 minutes, but that wasn’t technically necessary!)

Drawing Basics – Week 2

I recently started a novice-level drawing class with the goal of sucking less. Note the subtle distinction here; I’m not trying to get good at drawing, just less horrible. This allows me to preserve my self-esteem despite everything looking like the Fail Whale… that ironically I can’t draw, either.

I’m taking this class with Erica, who decided to cheat by taking four years to preemptively get a BACHELORS in freaking ART. Good thing, too, because it would have been much harder for her to be an art TEACHER without that background. Whatever. It basically goes like this**:

Erica: Good job, Preston!
Preston: (Proudly) Thanks! What’s…that.
Erica: Oh this? It’s supposed to be a 19th-century steel teapot on a French patio in January. But it looks more like February.
Preston: …
Erica: …
Preston: I hate you.

(**May not have actually happened.)

Anyway, here are my second attempts at drawing bottles.. and stuff. I’m happy to report that these suck less than week one! Mission accomplished.

drawing_basics_week_2-1

drawing_basics_week_2-2