Category Archives: middle-age

House MD: Emancipation

My BC review is up. I really liked this episode (there have been few sour notes this season as a whole). It reminded me much of a season one or two episode. And we got to see Noble!House (with Wilson actually commenting on it!)

http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/11/20/014129.php

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Revisiting the Amazon Kindle e-book reader

Originally published at Blogcritics.org

I confess to having a thing for new electronic gadgets and gizmos.  I always have.  But I’m pretty fickle about them as well.  Gadgets that look cool and act cool, but are too much trouble to use, frustrate my simple mind and typically wind up cast off into a drawer, unused or, if I’m feeling particularly industrious, for sale on eBay.

And so it was with amused disdain (tempered with his usual teasing indulgence) that my husband greeted my delight at having acquired an Amazon Kindle last November. The Kindle is Amazon.com’s electronic reading device. Using something called e-Ink, it provides the user with a traditional reading experience, but without the paper. He waited (and waited) for this, too, to be cast off and up on eBay. Although I was sorely tempted (the eBay price for a Kindle topped out at around $1000 when the product was sold out on Amazon.com for months), nothing would get me to part with my Kindle.  Eight months later, I’m still as enamored of it as I was back in November.

I reviewed the Kindle right out of the box when I got it, but now, after eight months of daily use, I thought it might be time to revisit the device. You know, honeymoon being over and all. So, without further ado:

The Fabulous

Instant access to Amazon.com—Do not underestimate the importance of this feature.  It makes owning the Kindle and browsing in the Amazon.com store an experience as satisfying as browsing the aisles of a brick-and-mortar Borders or Barnes and Noble.  It also places the Kindle head and shoulders above the Sony Reader.

Because the Kindle is wireless, access to the Amazon.com store is always available (and free):  sitting in the pediatrician’s waiting room, in the airport waiting to board your flight, sitting at the pool or lounging in bed wishing you had something good to read.  You flick on the wireless switch, hit the button and you’re in the store.  Browse new releases, the best seller lists (several of them), or search for your favorite author (by typing on the Kindle’s keypad) or genre.  Read reviews, download a free sample chapter or two (instantly), or buy the book.

There is no other reading device (as far as I know) that can do this.  You can also access the Amazon.com store on your computer, buy the Kindle version of the book and, voila, when you turn on the device, your new book magically appears on your device’s home page within a minute or two.

You can also subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times. (The Kindle “whispernet” deposits the newspaper into your device like an invisible newsboy.)  Magazines, including Time and The Atlantic, as well as e-magazines and blogs like Slate and—breaking news—BlogCritics(!) are also available for subscription.

Book Price—The current best-sellers and most other hardcover books are $9.99. Paperbacks cost generally between $3.00 and $7.00. If you buy a lot of hardcover books (and I do), you are saving about $15.00 per book.  Admittedly, you don’t have a physical copy of the book, and for some of us, that’s a blessing.  The Barnett household is littered with books.  We have approximately 2,000 volumes stashed and stacked in various bookcases (shelved two deep in places), on coffee tables, shelves nightstands and other places.  The possibility of buying new books without adding to the clutter is (as they say in Yiddish) a mechaiyah. (Insert deep relieved sigh here.)

Deleting a book from the Kindle library doesn’t erase it, either.  The book is simply stored back at Amazon.com for easy retrieval. Unlike storing a finished book in the dark reaches of my bedroom bookcase, I can actually find that biography of Thomas Jefferson when I absolutely must read it again.

Selection and Variety—The Amazon.com Kindle store contains more than 130,000 books, and it’s not just the best sellers and new releases.  A couple of weeks ago, for example, I needed a particular book on Jewish prayer. I was out of town and needed the book for a lecture.  I accessed the Kindle store on the device, and crossed my fingers (or to be more to the point, said a little prayer).  And there it was. The Kindle store has a very comprehensive selection of all genres.

Portability—For me, this is the reason for forking out $350 or more for any electronic reading device.  I can carry a whole library of books with me wherever I go.  And I do. I typically read one novel and two or three non-fiction books at a time.  In hardcover.  That’s a lot of books to carry around on a daily basis (or especially when traveling).

I also like to read at lunch, and to me there is no bigger reading buzz kill than trying to manage silverware and 750-page novel at the same time (especially when the novel is towards the beginning.)  Keeping those pages weighted down with salt-shakers, ice-water tumblers, and other at-hand implements is neither easy nor relaxing.  With the Kindle, I simply turn it on and prop it up.  Pages are turned by pressing very large buttons located both on the left and right of the Kindle.  Making it a wonderful lunchtime companion.  It’s also great to read in bed, for much the same reason.  No more unwieldy and hefty tomes to balance while I’m propped up bed. (So sue me, I like really long novels!)

Adjustable Type Size—This is a great feature for the middle-aged and elderly amongst us.  You can bump up the font size incrementally—all the way up to “I-really-ought-to-get-reading-glasses” size.

Keeps your place—Ever fall asleep and lose your place in a book?  Forget to bookmark or dog-ear a page?  The Kindle always saves your place.  If you want to mark a page for reference, there’s a cute little dog ear graphic in the top corner of each page.  Place an electronic bookmark and the little “corner” turns down just like a real dog-eared page.

Battery Life—Like most electronic readers using “e-Ink,” the Kindle’s real-time battery life is about two weeks or more.  If, that is, you use the wireless feature only when needed.  Flip it on to download your books or browse in the store and turn off when you’re done.  The device itself uses very, very little energy.

Needs improvement:

The Back Cover—Maybe it’s just my personal device, but the back of my Kindle keeps coming loose.  It’s a nuisance, and it should snap in place more securely than it does.  Without the included book-cover (which is great), I believe I may have lost the back of the device long ago.

Buttons—Don’t get me wrong; I love the big, accessible page-turning bars.  But accessible location also makes them too easy to flip accidentally.

Color—The Kindle would be extra cool if it had color ability.  Maybe in its next life; I understand that Kindle 2.0 may not be too far off in the future!

Page Numbers—I like to know what page I’m on.  I just do.  The Kindle tracks your reading progress by paragraph rather than by page.  I do understand why, especially if you’ve bumped up the type size, you can flip page after page without seeming to have made progress.  Although I’ve grown accustomed to this “new” way of judging my progress in the book, I really miss those page numbers.

Blurb—Sometimes, especially after I’ve put down a book for awhile, I forget why I started reading it in the first place, and the back cover (or the blurb) synopsis helps remind me of what the book’s about.  It’s something lacking on the Kindle, and something I greatly miss.  It’s a little thing, but (for me) it’s the one thing that would really make Kindle books “real” for me.  Silly, huh?

Bottom line:  It’s still a totally worthwhile electronic gizmo.  I rank it in importance after my laptop and my Blackberry (and actually ahead of my iPod – though just slightly).

Random thoughts on a cold spring morning

Welcome to anyone who happens by after clicking on my name over at Blogcritics.net.  I have been exceptionally wordy this month, and have made the list of top writers for the month of February, which earns me a direct link on the main Blogcritics page. 
So, I thought it might be appropriate at this juncture to offer something different and not on my Blogcritics writing space.First, as many of you know, I write mostly about House.  The TV show and the character.  And, by the by, the splendid actor who plays him—the magnificent Hugh Laurie.   
These days, I seem to write a lot of reviews, reflections and commentaries, leaving no time to write fanfiction, which I both write and write about (how “meta” of me!).  You can find all of my House fanfiction at fanfiction.net on my writer page.  I write angsty, and often long, stories that tend to fill in the blanks between scenes and episodes.I also have a LiveJournal where I write about House.  More reviews, fanfiction and discussion are to be had there.  
I also love politics and have a page at Daily Kos, the most famous progressive/liberal blog on the internet.  I haven’t written a lot there, because there are just many postings per day, that one’s posts tend to disappear within about five minutes, replaced by more recent ramblings, so… I spend a lot of time on the Internet, and some have pointed out that my laptop and I have become fused at the fingertips (which makes it awfully difficult to play guitar, which I have to do for a living, so I guess it’s a metaphor.)  I spend an inordinate amount of time surfing things Housian, but I suppose I could call that research.  Of course that doesn’t explain why I did that even before I started my blog.  YMMV (as they say). 
My favorite House places are:  The Official FOX House page (especially since they’ve linked directly to my Blogcritics House Trivia Quiz–have you taken it yet?) and House’s House of Whining (a fan forum).  My favorite forum is “Hugh Laurie: Too Handsome for Paperwork.”  I cruise to a couple of livejorunals for news, like House Daily (for the pretty pictures) and House-MD for news.  
For news, I like MSNBC.com, especially the Keith Olbermann page (he’s wonderful…not balanced…but wonderfully wry, dry, intelligent, and on our –my–side of the political spectrum)  I also read the New York Times, CNN.com, and of course Blogcritics. 
So, how did I get here?  My official bio says that I have had an eclectic and eccentric career, and that’s true.  I’ve been a microbiologist, a business magazine associate editor, a food industry newsletter editor, a regulatory affairs scientist/analyst in the chemical and medical device industries, an environmental public affairs consultant and policy analyst, an environmental writer and (for the last 12 years) a Jewish Educator/cantorial person (Hey, talk about your mid-life career change!).  I have two novels in progress (they’ll never be finished, this is much more fun), and two children, more or less still in progress (although the older one is graduating college next month, so I guess, she’s almost a finished product).  
This all makes me sound older than I intended, but I confess to being 53 (sigh) and married for 27 years.   So, welcome to the end of (my) thought process for today.
 Hope you come back again after you’ve browsed around a bit.  
Barbara

LP to mp3: Zapping Your Record Collection into the 21st Century

Like most couples of a certain age, my husband and I grew up spending our allowance, and then paychecks buying records (and eventually, cassettes). By the time we got married in the early 1980s our combined record collection totaled approximately 1,000 albums, taking up several bookcase shelves in our living room. CDs soon took the place of the LPs and cassettes as more bookcases were cluttered with another thousand (smaller and shinier) disks. Jewel cases seemed to proliferate in all the nooks and crannies of our home.But our vinyl collection sat collecting dust as we, reluctant to fork out cash to replace our outdated and broken turntable, wondered how to once again enjoy our classic rock, folk, Broadway, classical and jazz recordings (many of which were long out of print)  that never made the leap into the digital age. Library of Congress recordings of Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy; Introducing the Beatles; The Compleat Tom Paxton. Even favorites that had been digitally re-released: A Night at the Opera (Queen); my husband’s Hendrix, Clapton, Johnny and Edgar Winter collection, my original Broadway cast recording of The Music Man (”borrowed” from my parents on a visit home years earlier) lay dormant as we refused to re-purchase CD versions of recordings already in our library on vinyl. We opted to spend our music dollars on new tracks, assuring ourselves that one day, our one-of-kind 1957 Tom Lehrer album—a priceless auction buy–would once again sing to us.And then the iPod thing happened, and mp3 players of every breed propagated on retail shelves, removing us by yet one more technological generation from our beloved record albums. “If only,” we cried, “if only there was a way to stuff those glorious tracks into our iPods;” if only.I searched the oracle of the Internet, invoking the appropriately syntaxed keywords into a Google search and I found there my answer. At least I thought I did.  As I dove into dozens of “how-to” articles written in cryptic techno-ese that I, a non-audiophile, could not decipher, I lost hope. Until I stumbled upon a device called a USB Turntable. Hmmm. Seems easy enough, I mused, glancing through the instructions and descriptions I found online. Plug the turntable’s USB cable into the computer’s USB port. Place album on turntable, start recording software, start turntable. Recording made. (Well, of course you have to flip the record when it reaches the end of side one, but you knew that, right?) Cool. Of course, nothing is ever quite as easy as it seems when you are reading a product review or looking at a user guide without the product actually in hand.However, I was convinced that this was, indeed, do-able. I went out and purchased a turntable. Several manufacturers make USB turntables, including ION and Numark, which can be had for about $150.00. We settled on the Numark TT-USB because it seemed very sturdy and easy to use. And the price was right.The turntable is plugged directly into computer’s USB port; using the computer’s speakers to hear and monitor the recording. And, after a few false starts (I have to learn to actually READ  “quick start guides” before I start playing with my toys), we got the turntable up and working. And thus began a multi-year project (still ongoing) to convert every one of our 1,000 LPs to digital, and upload them into our iPods. That’s approximately 20,000 tracks, making me awfully grateful for our 80 gigabyte iPods. The turntables come packaged with basic recording software, but its worthwhile to buy an upgraded LP to digital transfer software package. There are several out there, including CFB Software’s “LP Recorder” and “LP Ripper.” Nero also includes an LP converter in several of its recording packages. Acoustica is another good package, but is slightly more complicated to use (in my opinion), although it has a lot of cool features.  You can create .wav files or mp3 files.  I suggest first creating a .wav file, the highest quality recording you can create.  Unfortunately .wav files are huge and take up way too much hard drive space to keep forever; and they would obliterate your mp3 player’s storage very, very quickly.  Fortunately you will be able to delete the .wav file once you have completed the conversion process. Most of our vinyl recordings (even the most well-cared for) are scratched and full of “pops” and “clicks.” Therefore, you should run your newly digitized recording through something called a de-clicker. You should perform this task on the .wav file and before you convert it to an mp3.  The de-clicker we use finds typically finds upwards of 15,000 clicks, pops and other distortions in about 15 seconds, removing them instantaneously. Once processed through the  de-clicker, you can save your clean recording as an mp3 file. Then, to save space, you can delete the .wav file.  From that point on, you can do what you want with mp3: burn it onto CD, synch onto your mp3 player or iPod, or phone, keep it in a RealAudio or Window Media Player Library, etc.The only problem is that in our fast-forward, high-speed CD-ripping age, you can’t hurry an analog recording like an LP. Recording an album onto the computer still takes 20 minutes per side. But it’s so worth it. I knew it the moment I was able to hop on the treadmill and listen to Jethro Tull on my iPod. Too cool.

Technological Delights and Dilemmas: A Middle Aged Rant

  

By Barbara Barnett
Originally Published at Blogcritics magazine.
I am endlessly fascinated with all things geeky: friends laugh at me for the frequency of new (and always improved) cell phones that dangle from my hip (no, I don’t have an iPhone—iPod, yes; iPhone no). I’ve been using PDAs since they were unsightly gray things with dim gray screens and dark gray text. I mystify my other middle-aged friends with my fluency in the sort of ‘Net-ese that their kids speak as they scratch their heads wondering when the “Google” became a word, much less a verb; and “Wiki” ceased to be a sort of patio furniture made of woven bamboo. (”Oh, ‘wiki‘ not ‘wicker,’ they will realize eventually, still scratching their heads). I proudly have Vista Ultimate and Office 2007, including my always-open Microsoft Outlook. (I’m not quite cool enough to have a Mac.) I have all but abandoned paper books for the cool Amazon Kindle that has become my constant companion. It currently contains about 10 novels, the last three issues of Time magazine and today’s New York Times.

I am appreciative of the high-tech toys and tools that enable me to create. Music appears effortlessly notated on Sibelius or Finale, where Ellington standards transpose themselves magically to my vocal key with the mere click of a button. I don’t even have to say “please.”  And as for writing…

My first professional writing gig was for a nationally-circulated 120-page monthly (business) magazine. As an associate editor, I was responsible for one-third of the magazine’s editorial content. Sounds more impressive than it actually was. Big title, lots of responsibility,  high pressure. Very little money.  And typewriters. Anyone remember those? Gigantic IBM Selectrics. They had those little white correction ribbons. Which was a great innovation, if you weren’t typing on a five-layer packet of copy paper. And I don’t mean the kind of copy paper that goes into the photocopy machine.  It was carbon-coated paper onto which you typed your work.  It was a time-intensive and painful experience until you learned to be a very good first draft writer. 

Like many writers, I embraced the invention of the word processor as virtual manna from heaven. I can’t even imagine (and barely remember) life without word processing. In my opinion, the best invention in history was Microsoft Word for Windows. WYSIWYG, and a whole new world (as the song goes).

Yet as I wax poetic, extolling the joys and virtues of my high-tech world, where my entire address book is stuffed weightlessly in my BlackBerry; my email is zipped to me at lunch or waiting in carpool line, I confess that there are some things that are better in real, rather than virtual, life. Take my calendar for example. Try as I might (and try I have) I simply cannot get along without a hard copy of my appointment book.

I am a very visual person and I have to see my week spread out in front of me. I can’t scroll, click and maneuver my way around a virtual calendar with the same ease as I can cross out, scribble notes and draw arrows on my big old paper calendar. Admittedly, I used the computer (an Excel spreadsheet) to create my own customized, but printed out, desk planner, with all of my recurring appointments automatically slotted in. But I can’t make the leap to the purely virtual world. Even something as simple as changing a client’s appointment works better in hard copy. It’s easier, quicker and more efficient. No? Don’t believe me? I herein make my case to you. (Oooh. I feel like I’m going to do a re-enactment of that great old folk song John Henry—you know the one where the mythical John Henry picked up his hammer and pitted his strength against a steam-driven machine).
This time it’s stylus (or thumbs for you smart phone mavens) vs. pencil and eraser.The virtual challenge: move appointment with John Henry (for the sake of poetic justice) from 3:00 p.m. Monday to 4:30 p.m. Thursday.Electronic calendar (be it PDA, smart phone, not-so-smart phone, or Outlook). Step 1: Open appointment. “Do you wish to open this instance or the entire series?” asks EC (electronic calendar). Oh yeah, I forgot to disclose that John Henry has a “weekly” appointment with me. And he wants to change just this week’s appointment. Step 2: I point to “this instance” and click. Steps 3-7: Several more clicks and mis-clicks, do-overs and think I’m done. Oops. I just made his new appointment for 2009. Damn. Repeat steps one through seven. This time for sure. Phew. Got it. Elapsed time: three minutes.Paper calendar.
One of those Week-at-a-Time thingies. Cross out John Henry on Monday. Write him in on Thursday. Done. Elapsed time: 25 seconds.
See what I mean? But something keeps compelling me to try going virtual. Earnest attempt after earnest attempt. The result usually is that half of my appointments are written in ink on my desk calendar at the office; and half are electronically stored on my BlackBerry. The main problem with this scenario is that you can’t synch a BlackBerry with a paper calendar.What someone really needs to invent is an electronic/ink hybrid. Write your notes in a pen that magically inputs it into Outlook, which can then synch back to your phone or PDA. So you can go both ways. Or either way. Electronic pen flowing ink onto the page and pixels into Outlook. I’d be in (a very organized version of) heaven. And ever so grateful.