Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tis the season for ebook readers

Judging by the questions I've been getting, there are a lot of people with ebook readers on their Christmas lists this year. It looks like 2010 may well be the year that digital books hit the mainstream.

That said I don't think that ebooks or ebook readers are for everyone. If you get most of your books from the library, downloadable ebooks are not yet available in Montana libraries. Or if you like to keep your books on display or donate them to others when you're done, ebooks may not be for you. But for those who buy and read a lot of books and/or travel a lot, it can be quite handy to be able to store hundreds of books and magazines on a small portable device.

I have both a Kindle 2 and a Sony Reader Touch edition. I bought the Sony specifically to take advantage of Google public domain books and potential library ebooks. But as I said earlier, MT public libraries don't offer access to downloadable ebooks yet. And I've discovered that the new Kindle firmware update allows one to read Google public domain books more easily than does the Sony.

One of the problems with reading PDF files on either device is that you can't enlarge the type. I found the fonts on PDF books too small to read comfortably on the Sony, small but readable on the Kindle. And navigating PDF books on an ebook reader is really clunky regardless of the type. You pretty much have to click next page repeatedly to get to the page you want. That's not too bad if you're reading a novel but irritating if you're browsing for just the right poem.

I know that a lot of people (including a friend in Billings) are buying Sony ebook readers probably because they're available in stores. I prefer my Kindle 2, however. You have the Amazon Kindle store to shop from. Most hardcover bestsellers are $9.99 in the Kindle store. Most of the titles I was interested in from the Sony eBook Store are more expensive. Some from other online bookstores are close to the hardcover price for electronic editions. My friend claims she's found good prices for Sony ebook titles at other outlets.

The big plus for Kindle 2 is that you can download titles from the Kindle store wirelessly. I haven't found a location in Montana where I was unable to access the wireless connection. Sony ebooks have to be bought on a computer, downloaded to the computer and then transferred to the ebook reader. Wireless availability for Kindle also makes subscribing to newspapers and magazines an attractive option. All I have to do is turn on the wireless and the latest issue is downloaded to my device automatically wherever I am. Kindle wireless coverage map.

Kindle also offers reader apps for iPod Touch, iPhone and PC. The Mac app is supposed to be coming soon. So, I can read a chapter or two of a book on my iPhone and then pick up where I left off later on my Kindle. It's a bit quirky still in actual use but I love the idea.

The only real argument I've heard in favor of Sony ebook readers over Kindles is their use of the epub format. And this gets pretty techie. Suffice it to say that epub is the standard ebook format. Amazon uses it's own azw format. That means that books you buy for the Amazon Kindle can't be read on any other devices (aside from phones, computers, etc. running Kindle software). Epub books can in theory be read on multiple devices. But most bestsellers will come with their own DRM (Digital Rights Management) protection which will limit them to their own devices. For example, Barnes & Noble DRM-protected epub books cannot be read on Sony readers. I learned this the hard way.

On Tuesday, December 22 Sony released their Daily Edition with wireless capability. While I'd thought that the lack of wireless was a real drawback, that now seems to put Sony back in the mix, for most of the country. With its 7 inch screen and $399 price, the Sony Reader Daily Edition seems to be positioning itself somewhere between the 6 inch screen Amazon Kindle 2 at $259 and the 9.7 inch screen Kindle DX at $489.

But not in Montana.
I checked out their wireless coverage map and Montana is blank. That's not surprising to those of us who've been wanting a legal iPhone. AT&T does NOT provide coverage in Montana. So, it looks like the Sony Daily Reader will be like the Amazon Kindle 1 in that Montanans will be asked to pay a premium for second-rate service.

The most talked about new rival to the Kindle is the Barnes & Noble Nook at $259. It offers wireless capability like the Kindle as well as the epub format. You have Barnes & Noble's stores and website to shop from and they promise to offer prices competitive to Amazon's. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get my hands on one to try it out. But most reviewers seem to like it. It runs Google's Android operating system and has reportedly already been hacked to allow web browsing. But web access is not particularly attractive on a slow black & white device. It's always been a feature of the Kindle. Still, there are enticing possibilities with Android for tech geeks. But, since their wireless is also provided by AT&T, I'd be very surprised if this feature worked in Montana. I received confirmation of this in an email from Barnes & Noble. They sent this link to AT&T's coverage information.

If wireless connectivity is important to you and you live in Montana, it looks like Kindle 2 is the only option at present unless you prefer to download to your computer.

We'll be talking about ebook readers at Offline in Billings on February 19-20, 2010. Come and offer your opinions.

In the meantime, here are some additional resources:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Amazon Kindle 2 Review

I think the biggest selling point for the Kindle 2 for consumers in Montana is we finally get wireless and the opportunity for instant gratification. Once you set it up with your account, you can buy books and magazines with one-click and have them downloaded instantly to your device. If you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine, the Kindle will be updated automatically with the latest issue whenever you turn on wireless access. For libraries, this is probably not as big a deal because we would shut off the one touch ordering.

Another fun feature I’ve recently taken advantage of was the clipping. I’ve always highlighted passages and made notes. But I just discovered that the highlighted passages are copied to a My Clippings text file that can be retrieved via computer from the Documents folder on the Kindle. You can clip an entire article or a section of an article or just a few words or sentences. I gave a talk yesterday on ethical eating and it was really handy to be able to integrate passages from some of the books I’d read on Kindle. Once again this is probably of more use to an individual consumer than to a library. I imagine libraries would want to make sure that the clippings file was emptied after each use for privacy considerations.

Some features that are useful to everyone:
  • The variable text sizes – you can make any book or periodical large text by clicking on the Aa button.
  • Text to speech – most items can be translated into computer-generated speech again by clicking on the Aa button and selecting Text to Speech. This was rather controversial when it first came out. Some publishers objected and their works will not have this feature enabled.
  • Dictionary – you can get a definition for many words by simply moving the cursor near and up comes a definition at the bottom
  • The search function can be very useful. Say you’re trying to find the chapter that talked about Sally Smith. Just type it in search and you’ll go right to it.
  • You can use it to listen to music and some audiobooks (unfortunately, not OverDrive).

Some negatives:
  • Navigation can be clunky. It’s not easy to go back to previous sections unless you have them bookmarked. You’ll often have to go back to the table of contents, find the chapter and click through to the page you want.
  • Maps and charts can be difficult to read and use.
  • It’s expensive - as of today $259 for US version.
  • It uses its own proprietary e-book format.
  • Formatting is often lost. I recently read a book that used a lot sidebar material. It was randomly inserted into the text.
  • It’s clunky to transfer your own or PDF files. You need conversion software. charges $0.10 to translate a document and email it to your device.
And probably the biggest drawback for libraries considering purchasing Kindles to lend to their patrons for e-book use is that is still unclear about whether or not library use is permissable under the user agreement.

Monday, July 27, 2009

iphone in montana?

As some of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook know, I recently got an iPhone. After contemplating just about every smartphone option openly available in Montana, including Blackberry and Nokia, I decided that what I really wanted was an iPhone. Actually, I did own a Nokia E63 for a couple of weeks. I concluded that while it wasn't a bad phone, it was too complicated for me. I continue to believe that needing instructions to use any electronic device constitutes a serious design flaw.

I've had several people ask, how do you get an iPhone to work in Montana? I'm not going to go into the details here, if anyone's really interested I'll give him/her the lowdown offline. But for this posting, I'll just talk in general terms and address some of the pros and cons to going this way.

It is possible to get an unlocked iPhone along with service from a local wireless provider. An unlocked iPhone is going to be used and probably an earlier model. So, if what you really long for is the latest greatest iteration - at this point a 3GS, this will not be an option. And you're going to be paying full price for the older used model you get. There aren't a lot of unlocked iPhones out there. It appears to be a sellers/hackers market. Knowing all this, I have to admit being a bit taken aback that I was getting a 1st gen iPhone. But since we don't have 3G in Montana, it didn't seem a big deal upon reflection. And the 1st gen iPhone actually has better battery life than its successors. Besides it's got the 3.0 software so it can run all my apps.

Those are the first two cons, price and hardware antiquity. Add to that, the additional data surcharge I found out I needed to buy to use the data network. This is going to end up costing me about as much as an AT&T contract would. But with a painfully slow data network. Remember, we don't get 3G speeds in Montana. The final con would have to tech support difficulties. I have to find the manager at my wireless store whenever I have a question or problem. The iPhone is not an officially supported device.

Still, I'm very happy with my purchase. I now have one purse-sized device I can use to take pictures, send and read email, check my calendar, twitter, post facebook updates, listen to Mariners games, watch movies, browse the internet, listen to music and audiobooks. Oh yes, and I can also ignore phone calls coming in on it. I really do hate phones, cellular and otherwise so the phone is probably the least important part of it for me. That's probably a good thing because techies claim that it's really not a very good phone.

For me that's where the iPhone really stands out is with the apps! There's a Kindle app whereby I can read books on my iPhone and it will sync with my Kindle so I can start up on one where I left off on the other. It's a bit quirky in practice but the potential is certainly there. I've got Epicurious with which I can look up recipes and compile a grocery list in the store. AroundMe lets me find drugstores, gas stations, restaurants, etc. in my vicinity. This probably would have saved me from a recent extended tour of Idaho Falls, looking for a gas station. The big plus of the iPhone being so popular is that there are big incentives to create apps for it. And it works like a dream with my Mac. The first time I plugged it in, it automatically synced with my iPod Touch - email accounts, calendars, everything. I can't tell you how long I struggled with the Nokia trying to set up a couple of email accounts.

Weighing the pros and cons, I'd have to say that in Montana, the cons seem to definitely outweigh the pros - particularly the high cost and lack of a high-speed cellular network. So, unless you're pathologically geeky and/or have more dollars than sense (sorry, couldn't resist), you'll probably want to wait a bit on the iPhone (hmm, apparently both of those descriptions could apply to me). I continue to think that the iPod Touch is a pretty good alternative for Montana, especially if the rumors about cameras in future models comes to pass. It runs just about all the iPhone apps as well as music and video. All you need to do is get on a free wi-fi network and you can do just about everything you can with an iPhone for no monthly fee.

One complication for Montanans who've been hoping that Verizon may offer iPhones at some point in the future are the competing standards. The iPhone is set up to run on GSM networks such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Cellular One and others. Verizon uses CDMA. I don't pretend to understand the difference between the two standards, but apparently, for the iPhone to work on a CDMA network, it would need an entirely new chip set. Even if Apple decides to drop their exclusive AT&T agreement, they're probably not going to build an entirely new iPhone with a Verizon-compatible chip set.

Would I trade in my iPhone? At the moment no, but ask again after a few months of wireless bills. We'll see if the always connected promise is worth the cost.

Friday, July 10, 2009

windows 7 pre-order offer

Today and tomorrow - July 10 and 11 are your last days to pre-order Windows 7 at Microsoft's special price of $49 for Home Premium Upgrade and $99 for Professional Upgrade. You order today or tomorrow but don't pay until the operating system is shipped on October 22.
You can find even better prices from some of the participating retailers like Costco.

Microsoft is also offering free upgrades to Windows 7 from Windows Vista for any new PC you buy from now until October.
You'll probably still be able to get cheaper licenses from Tech Soup for your library computers after Windows 7 is shipped. But this is a good opportunity to upgrade your home computers. I bought a copy for my Acer netbook.

The system requirements are not as high as for Windows Vista. It reportedly runs great on netbooks. But you still might want to run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to make sure your PC will be able to run the new OS.
And if you prefer to try before you buy, Microsoft is offering Windows 7 Release Candidate free for download until the end of July 2009. You can use it until June 2010 before it expires and you have to buy a copy.
I've heard that the Release Candidate is very stable but you're generally advised not to try on your only PC and/or on any computer that is absolutely vital to your operations. And for library use, it's a pretty good idea to wait a bit on new software and operating systems and let someone else work the bugs out for you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Public PC Restrictions - Part Two

So this is really part 2 of what I had described in an earlier blog. You should read the first part or this won’t really make much sense. It's called "Public PC Restrictions without Steady State".

OK, well there is one thing you do NOT do, and that is to enable the restriction called "Prevent access to Microsoft Management Console utilities". Remember that the Administrator account is what you use to make changes to your policies with the Group Policy Editor. The Exec account can’t make those changes because it does not have read access to the “User” folder that has the policy. The Group Policy Editor is one of the Microsoft Management Console utilities, so if you enable that restriction, you can no longer change your restrictions. This would be an unfortunate series of events indeed.

I list the policies I have used on a set of PCs running XP in a Workgroup and that have Deep Freeze installed on them. This list is just what I am using and in no way means it is just right for you. But you might usefully use this as a good starting point. I consider these restrictions to be mild to medium. Good luck and please let me know if you found this useful or not. Thanks.
This is the list of enabled policies.

General Settings
Set Internet Homepage (to whatever)
Prevent Access to Drives from My Computer - Restrict C drive only

Start Menu Restrictions
Allow only the Classic Start menu
Remove the Control Panel, Printer and Network Settings from the Classic Start menu
Remove the My Documents icon
Remove the My Recent Documents icon
Remove the My Pictures icon
Remove the My Music icon
Remove the My Network Places icon
Remove the Control Panel icon
Remove the Set Program Access and Defaults icon
Remove the Network Connections (Connect To) icon
Remove the Printers and Faxes icon
Remove the Run icon
Remove the Frequently Used Programs list

General Windows Restrictions (In this section DO !NOT! prevent access to the MMC)
Prevent right-click in Windows Explorer
Prevent Autoplay on CD, DVD, and USB drives
Prevent users from saving files to the desktop
Prevent access to Windows Explorer features: Folder Options, Customize Toolbar, and the notification Area
Prevent access to the command prompt
Prevent access to the registry editor
Prevent access to Task Manager
Prevent users from adding or removing printers
Prevent users from locking the computer
Prevent password changes (also requires the Control Panel icon to be removed)

Internet Explorer restrictions
Disable Autocomplete
Empty the Temporary Internet Files folder when Internet Explorer is closed
Prevent access to some Internet Explorer menu choices
Security Tab
Programs Tab
Privacy Tab
Advanced Tab
Connections Tab

Microsoft Office restrictions
Disable Add-Ins (both check boxes)

Additional Start Menu Restrictions
Prevent programs in the All Users folder from appearing

Additional General Windows Restrictions
Remove the Shared documents folder from My Computer

Additional Internet Explorer Restrictions

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Conficker April First Non-Event

It's only early morning here in Montana on Apriil First 2009 but parts of the world have already moved on to April 2 and the Conficker worm has not shown a dramatic turn for the more destructive. No news is good news on this front.

If you would like to find out more about the Conficker worm, have a look at If you need tools or information to help you rid yourself of this scourge, have a look at

Remember it can also spread by using a memory stick. Those of you that use a memory stick that is occassionally plugged into a PC in a school network should be particularly careful. I only mention schools because they are often filled with uninhibited surfers, but so are many other places as well. Public libraries come to mind.

Enjoy your April 1st. May all your jokes be clever and all your victims be of good humor.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Public PC Restrictions Without SteadyState

I have come to dislike Windows SteadyState.  The version I was running on some XP boxes was not compatible with Windows Service Pack 3 for Windows XP and the only way to remove SteadyState was to format the hard drive and reinstall.  But I still need to apply restrictions on public stations that are part of a Workgroup instead of a Domain.  A Domain enables you to use the powerful Group Policy environment.  I love it.  But there are places I cannot put a server, so what to do?  Do this.  It’s a somewhat complicated process, so you should be pretty familiar with Windows XP to set this up.

This is on a new install of a fully updated post-SP3 Windows XP Professional box.  I have a public user named “pub”.  I have a workstation management user called “exec”.  And I also use the built-in Administrator account.  Both “exec” and “administrator” are members of the Administrator’s Local Group.  The user “pub” is a member of the Users Group.  As you’ll see, we need all three accounts.

There are a number of Group Policy settings included with the XP Pro install.  To these we need to add the restrictions found in Windows SteadyState.  All SteadyState restrictions are on the User side, not the Computer side.  You’ll soon see what that means.  Keep in mind that what we are doing with this step is making these restrictions available for configuration.  We are not here turning them on or off.

First, we need to get the Administrative Template included with Windows SteadyState.  The most obvious technique is to install SteadyState on a box and grab the file.  The file you are looking for is c:\program Files\Windows Sdeadystate\ADM\SCTsettings.adm.  A much cleaner solution is to extract the file “SCTsettings.adm” right from the Steadystate msi installation file.  Search on “msiexec” to find how to use a tool to avoid having to install to get the file.
Next we want to put this file where it belongs.  On the PC we are going to lock down, put SCTsettings.adm in the c:\windows\system32\grouppolicy\adm folder.  Open the admfiles.ini file for editing.  Add a line for the SCTsettings.adm file ending in 1 like the other lines.

Reboot.  Logon as Administrator.  Run gpedit.msc at the Run line.  In the left pane, note that there is a folder following  the path “User Configuration – Administrative templates – All Windows SteadyState Restrictions”.  In this folder are all the same restrictions you find in Windows SteadyState and you don’t have to worry about pulling all your hair out dealing with a SteadyState problem sometime down the road.

But we’re not finished yet.  How are we going to apply these restrictions to only one specific user on this PC?  Not being the brightest crayon in the box, I didn’t know.  So I googled it.  To solve that problem, I will simply point you to  He solves it using permissions.  I have made one change from his description.  I modify permissions on the “User” folder in the “GroupPolicy” folder rather than the “GroupPolicy” folder itself.  All SteadyState restrictions are User restrictions, so as long as you are making only SteadyState restrictions, you only need deny access to the “User” folder.

There is one last clue.  If you don’t find the Security tab where you expect it, as per the elder geek’s instructions, turn off “Simple File Sharing”.  Open Windows Explorer, go to Tools – Folder Options – View, scroll to the bottom of the list and you’ll see the checkbox.

Now here is how my procedure works.  I set “pub” to logon automatically.  The restrictions are applied and the user is restricted.  When I want to change a restriction, I logon as “Administrator” and make changes using gpedit.msc.  If the administrator is blocked from accessing that tool, then the only option is to use the technique described at the end of the elder geek’s description.  For all administration that doesn’t involve changing these restrictions, I use the “exec” logon.

OK, so that is how you would apply and manage restrictions on a public workgroup XP station.  What restrictions should you apply?  I’ll talk about that in the next blog.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

keeping track of social networks

Do you belong to several social networking sites?
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • Facebook
  • Delicious
  • Google Reader
  • Others
If so, you probably have friends on a number of these sites as well. So, how do you keep track of all of this activity without making yourself crazy (okay, crazier, in my case)?

One solution is FriendFeed. Here's a FriendFeed widget with my recent activity:

You can subscribe to FriendFeed and add your friends. Of course, there's another step that can take some time. Facebook also has a FriendFeed application you can add. It will automatically add your Facebook friends to your FriendFeed as they sign up without your having to go through another step.

I find FriendFeed particularly useful professionally in regard to seeing what web sites my library colleagues are bookmarking in Delicious. And that's really what social networking is about - learning from your peers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Video - Can you say it in 12 seconds?

There are some tools out there that make videocasting really easy. All you need is 12 seconds of your time, a webcam, microphone and a willing or perhaps not so willing co-star:

sreymer on