New Madrid Fault becomes active !!

25 10 2010

Click to view Chart

I noticed that there has been a marked increase in reported minor earthquakes along the New Madrid Fault in the last 2-3 weeks. I receive email reports each time a tremor is detected by the USGS. To see how much more activity there has been I tallied the email reports by month over the last 2-3 years. In October 2010 we see a sharp jump in the number of tremors detected by the USGS. (See update at foot of this post for latest information)

Recently a book was published indicating that the New Madrid fault is going dormant and will not pose a threat to those living along it. I am unsure how to interpret this recent spike in activity but it does not seem to be going dormant to me :-) On average 150 quakes are detected per year along this fault, few if any are ever felt since they are very minor tremors. The number of tremors has already exceeded this in October 2010 alone and the month has yet to come to an end!!

Is this the harbinger of things to come for the Midwest? Will we see a  repeat of the 1811 and 1812 quakes on this fault when the Mississippi river flowed backwards for 3 days and reelfoot lake was created.

About 12 years ago insurance companies removed earthquake protection from standard homeowner policies for middle Tennessee customers. Today one has to request the coverage and pay an additional premium to reinstate coverage. Even if you pay for the coverage there is typically a $50,000 deductible. Clearly the insurance actuaries are a little concerned a quake could occur soon. Lets hope and pray this is the fault line harmlessly releasing pressure – better to have hundreds of very small quakes rather than just one big one.

There is little discussion on the net regarding this increased activity. A lot of speculation like this, but no real scientific analysis or commentaries.

What do you think this means if anything?

Update: 2011-03-16

I’ve continued to monitor the earthquake activity on the New Madrid fault, activity dipped for a month or two December and January but has picked up again during February and March 2011. See latest chart below.

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Kindle in short supply again

28 09 2010

After being ‘in stock’ for a few weeks Amazon have put a small shipping delay of 3-5 days on the Kindle 3. Both the 3g + Wifi and Wifi only models are subject to this restriction. The more expensive DX is in stock.


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In addition, Amazon are limiting customers to a total of 5 Kindles per account. If you have a genuine need for more than 5, you have to email Amazon at kindle-sales@amazon.com.

When the Kindle was first released at the end of August it was on back-order for a few weeks due to strong pent-up demand. On September 15th Amazon showed the Kindle being in stock, presumably having received a new shipment and satisfying all outstanding orders.

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E-book sales in July 2010 showed a surge in demand of over 25% compared to previous months, signaling that e-books are becoming main stream. Amazon recently announced that their sales of e-books exceeded the sales of hardcover books. The e-book revolution is here.





Amazons first paid Kindle game – Scrabble – tops the charts

26 09 2010

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The latest Kindle game, scrabble costs $4.99 and was released on Thursday 23rd September 2010. It shot straight to the top of the best selling Kindle titles besting out the latest ‘bestseller’  Freedom, by Johnathon Franzen which is featured in the Oprah Book Club.

Amazon don’t release numbers, but to very quickly outsell an item endorsed by Oprah is no small feat. To see what all the fuss is about I obtained a copy and found the game to be easier to use and navigate than I had anticipated. I beat the medium difficulty level readily, so will try my luck at the advanced level. It may not be very challenging for a Scrabble enthusiast. The game plays its turn within 2-3 seconds so one is not left waiting for your turn as with a human opponent.

There are several different scrabble rules variants programmed, Classic, 75 Points, 150 Points, 8 round, 12 round. The game will ‘help’ you with the ‘Best Word’ feature, it shows you the highest scoring word given the letters you have available, you only get a few turns using this feature :-) The game uses the ‘Official Players Scrabble Dictionary’. In our ever increasing politically correct world, ‘offensive words’ have been removed from this dictionary, which amounts to just over 800 otherwise valid words.  It would be nice if you could specify which dictionary to use to overcome the political correctness or for the game to be played in foreign languages. Maybe in the updated version.

I found the ‘blank’ tile to be confusing, for several turns I thought I had been jipped out of my seven tiles, the blank tile looks like a tile is missing, they need to make it a little more obvious, maybe by putting a point value of zero on the tile. I accidentally played one of my blanks, the game chooses the blank if you spell a word which includes a letter that is not in your rack, I’d prefer if it asked you if it was OK to do that.

The obvious missing feature is online play. With on-board 3g the ability to play scrabble anywhere against real opponents would be a major addition to the game. Wonder if they will ever add this feature.

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It is quite odd to think of a dedicated e-book reader to be used for gaming, however if one looks at the top selling free titles on Amazon, two of the top three titles are games.

Personally I’m waiting for a Backgammon title to be released.





New Kindle Owner – Week 2

22 09 2010

Reading Experience

I’ve read a fictional novel in the past week and have started to read a non-fictional book. It was great for the Kindle system to keep my place in the books and be able to easily switch between my Kindle and my android phone and pickup where I left off on the other device. I did not use my PC’s to do any reading last week. It is neat to see your progression through a book represented as percentage complete.

I found if light got low and a reading light was not readily available, switching to the droid allowed for low light reading. I didn’t do this often, most of the time I had enough light to read by, as one would with a physical book. The automatic bookmark synchronization between devices was very convenient. I never lost my place once :-)

Why I chose the Kindle in the first place

Amazon Kindle

Several of my blog readers asked me to compare the Kindle to the Nook. I don’t have a Nook but will share with you  my reasoning for picking the Kindle over the other e-book readers on the market. I was looking for an e-ink device so will not compare to the iPad in this analysis.

In my opinion the front runners in the e-book reading marketplace are the Kindle and the Nook. The Kobo and Sony are e-ink readers but I quickly eliminated them from my choices available based on the market share they have and reviews about them I had read online. The Kobo got poor reviews and the Sony I saw in Office Depot and did not like how it handled or looked.

The Nook and Kindle are both backed by large libraries of e-books, and both offer free classics.

B&N Nook

The Nook has some unique and interesting features that make it very attractive.

  • Free assistance from employees at Barnes & Noble stores
  • Read any e-book for free for one hour while at a Barnes & Noble store.
  • Color touchscreen book covers and menus, (book text is black & white).
  • Ability to ‘lend or borrow’ books between Nook friends, restricted to 14 day loan period.
  • Reasonable quantity of  Text Books in e-book format.
  • Extend-able memory through Micro-SD Memory slot.
  • EPub ‘open’ e-book format supported.
  • Runs on open source Android operating system, a true computer OS.

The Kindle 3 also has some unique features.

  • WhisperSync – keeps your place between reading devices (Nook website says ‘coming soon’).
  • Integration and account synchronization with Audible.com audio book library.
  • WebKit based browser which results in great web page rendering.
  • Extraordinary battery life – one month without wireless.
  • Lightest e-book reader in its class.
  • Free 3g web browsing.

The Nook features are very strong and technically it probably is the better reader, so why did I choose the Kindle over the Nook?

The two clinchers for me were

  1. The Financial solidity of Amazon. With e-books they are stored by the host company in a library. You can download from the library to your device. If you lose your device or it breaks, the books you purchased are still with the host company and available for download again. Barnes & Noble are unprofitable and in August 2010 put themselves up for sale. What will the future of the B&N e-book library be? No one can know and the uncertainty of this makes me skittish about putting dollars into a library of books I may lose control / access to in the not to distant future.
  2. Integration with Audible.com. I have been an Audible subscriber for 6 months or more and have quite a collection of audio books. These are instantly available on the Kindle because Amazon own Audible.com. I have listened to some of my audio books on the Kindle and they play as well as any MP3 player I have. For now one still has to buy audio and e-books separately and could end up paying twice. I am hopeful, as Amazon continue to integrate Audible into the Kindle ecosystem that a single payment will give access to both formats.

Had Barnes & Noble been more financially stable, my choice would have been much closer.

Books Read last week

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larrson. Murder Mystery fictional book. Highly recommended

Lies, Damn Lies and Science – Sherry Seethaler – Non fictional – Not enough read to recommend.

Oh yeah and I read the Kindle Users Guide :-)





Pre-Release version of Kindle 3 software available

21 09 2010

Amazon have posted a preview version of a software update for the Kindle latest generation. The software is available for a limited time. If you intend to update be sure to download before it is removed

The release fixes several issues including

  • Slow web-browsing
  • Slow page turns in bright sunlight.

I find it ironic that page turns with the current Kindle 3 are slower in bright sunlight, especially after Amazon’s latest TV ad poking fun at the iPad’s readability in bright sunlight. I’m sure they will release the software update as soon as possible to save getting too much egg on their face regarding the sunlight issue. I believe their TV Ad campaign is flawed, read more here.

.To learn more about the Kindle visit the Kindle product page





New Kindle Owner – Week 1

19 09 2010

I placed my order for the latest Kindle 3 with Wifi + 3g on September 3rd 2010 and it arrived a few weeks later on September 16th. I’ve used it for a few days now and here are my first impressions :-

The Unexpected

Being sold out and on back order I resigned myself to having to wait 2 weeks to get the device before I could use it. However as I read up on the Kindle I quickly discovered you don’t actually need a Kindle at all to read Kindle books. Amazon have released Kindle applications for computers and smart phones. Visit this web page for more details.

I was able to install the Kindle app on my Android phone and start downloading and reading Kindle books immediately.  You don’t need to have ordered a Kindle to do this, the software is freely available.

I read HG Wells War of the Worlds. I had seen the TV reenactment of the famous radio version of this story. The book however was both different and delightful. Quite a satisfying read. I was amazed how readable the book was on an Android phone. I had read the entire book while waiting on the Kindle to arrive in the mail. I found the ‘Sepia’ theme to be the easiest on the eyes. I also experimented with the Desktop application on both Windows XP and Windows 7. It worked great and synchronized my reading place between devices across the internet. Amazon refer to this sync feature as WhisperSync. It works remarkably well.

I also discovered that many classic books are free, and some books are offered for free on short term promotions. Many books offer the first chapter for free.

By the end of the first week I had purchased 17 books. 15 free, 2 paid for, for a grand total of $10. I had registered 2 mobile devices and 4 computers to my Amazon account in addition to the yet to be received Kindle.

The Good

The Kindle arrived and I found the reading experience to be much better than anticipated, even given the positive reviews I had already read on the web. The text is very sharp thanks to great contrast. This is my first time to experience ‘e-ink’ and it is quite phenomenal. In bright light I find the readability to be superior to physical books.

Not only were all my purchases available directly upon opening of the box, but all my Audible titles were also available for download. The automatic synchronization between my Kindle and Audible accounts was seamless and the audio books sound great on the Kindle. I was able to pick up reading Stieg Larssons, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ where I had left off on my android device.

Free 3g wireless for the life of the service/device. What a deal!! No contracts, no fees just download content from anywhere with 3g data. It even works with Edge if 3g isn’t available.

The Bad

The price of e-books. You’ll notice I ‘purchased’ a lot of books at no cost, this sounds great, what can I complain about? The reason I selected free books is that current books are in my opinion over priced, as a rule of thumb, e-books are priced the same as paperbacks, or a smidgen less. Don’t blame Amazon, they wanted to price most e-books at $9.99 or less, but the publishers lead by Macmillan were successful in strong arming Amazon into charging more. Read more here . It is dismaying to see Apple at the center of the price hike as a result introducing the iPad earlier this year. More competition leads to higher prices!?! Am I missing something? I refer to higher e-Book prices that is, thanks to Apple the Kindle price is cut in half, hence my purchase :-)

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Amazon advertise the latest Kindle as having 4GB of storage. Well actually its more like 3GB usable storage. I’m accustomed to GB inflation from hard drive manufacturers, but 25% difference? Hmmm….

The Ugly

‘Experimental Features’ such as the MP3 player and Web Browser are not easy to use on the Kindle. The MP3 player is simply a jukebox that plays your MP3’s in the order they were loaded on the device. No controls.

The Web Browser is slow and very difficult to use without a pointing device. Using up/down/right/left arrows to navigate is very frustrating. One good note however, the browser scores 100 on the acid3 browser test and renders sites such as Gmail very well. Why offer a browser at all? To sell books of course.

Summary

I like it. I like it a lot. I recommend you get one even if you already have a laptop/notebook/iPad. This dedicated reading device is very compelling.





Why Amazon’s Kindle vs iPad ‘pool ad’ is a mistake

17 09 2010

Recently Amazon have aired an ad that makes fun of the iPads readability (or lack thereof) in bright sunlight.

In my opinion this is a huge mistake. The two products are complementary not competitive. What Amazon should be doing is comparing their Kindle Library to the Apple iBook Library. Content is king, devices will come and go, ones e-book library will by contrast persist for much longer.

Amazon’s Kindle library can be accessed on a wide range of devices, including the iPad no less. Making fun of a platform that you officially support is rather silly. Do Amazon really want to sell Kindles or do they want to sell Kindle books? Kindles are merely a delivery mechanism for the real product, a book, magazine, newspaper etc.

There are so many great things about the Kindle ecosystem that they could promote, the device isn’t that important. The fact that the 3g model has free worldwide 3g without any monthly cost or commitments is quite frankly amazing, push this and compare to the price of the iPads data plan. Free vs $$$ per month.

Learn more about the Kindle here.





Froyo Woes – Maps and Pandora

7 09 2010

Google Maps navigation voice prompts stops Pandora music playing!

The Android 2.2 update has brought many good things to the Droid user, however I discovered recently that since the 2.2 update Maps does not play nicely with Pandora anymore. While getting audible directions while navigating I used to enjoy Pandora, maps would simply mute Pandora while it spoke its directions. Now Maps paues Pandora and Pandora eventually dies, requiring a restart.

The problem is definitely a result of the Android update, I found an official Google support forum where many hundreds of users complained of the same issue. Apparently the issues affects the stock media player as well.

Let’s hope a fix is in the works – soon.

Update October 3rd 2010 – Recent updates to both Pandora and Google Maps seem to have resolved this annoying issue. Now I can both navigate and listen to my favorite music channel  on my Droid once again.





Microsoft finally turns away from XP

10 07 2010

Windows is dead, long live Windows!! It was sure to happen one day, and that day is here.

Microsoft have in beta the next version of the Live products such as Live Messenger, Live Photo Gallery etc. Windows XP is no longer supported, and furthermore Live Essentials 2010 Beta will not install on XP at all.

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I struggled installing the latest Beta on an XP computer and got an error that said the installation file was not a valid win32 application. When I visited Micrsofts website I saw that Vista is the oldest version of Windows this suite of products will run on. (It would be nice if the installer simply informed you that windows XP is no longer supported).

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One reason XP has continued to be used for so long is that  it does what most people want from a computer and all applications run fine on it. Microsofts past plans to retire the product were met with resistance and they kept it alive, at least up to now. Live 2010 products will be the first Microsoft products to spurn XP. This is the first nail in the coffin for XP. As more applications from Microsoft and 3rd parties are released without the possibility to run on XP, the need and desire to upgrade will increase.

Office 2010 runs on XP, so corporations may still be able to put off upgrades for a while yet, home users will be the first pushed to make the upgrade since the Live products are targeted at them. The latest Live products have built in integration points with social networks like Facebook, so the desire to use the latest Live products will be compelling for many home users.

Moving off an 8 year old platform is advisable anyway IMHO. Windows 7 is a good OS and is worthy of taking up the reins from old faithful, Windows XP.

Update: 2010-09-17 IE9 Microsoft latest internet browser is in Beta. IE9 does not support Windows XP. The pressure to move off XP will build once people want to get the new features in the new browser.





Official Audible App for Android – Beta now available!

5 06 2010

Audible have been slow to support Android devices, not sure why but the wait is over. Google and Audible have teamed up and there is now an official beta app available that works with your Audible account/library. To get it visit the Audible for Android (Beta) group at Google Groups.  At the time of writing (June 5th 2010) there are 3231 members of this group, so there are not many folks out there aware of this beta application. Hopefully I can spread the word via this blog :-)

Installation

The download is not available on the Android market so you need to setup your phone to allow downloads from ‘unknown sources’. To do so enter the settings on your android phone, select applications and check ‘Unknown Sources’. Now visit the download page on a desktop PC scan the QR code using your android device. Once the download is complete click on the .apk file and follow the installation prompts.

How Good is It?

I have found the beta to be stable on the Motorola Droid (Version 0.136b). As soon as you authenticate the application to your Audible account it updates the items you have in your Audible library, presents them in a list that can be sorted several useful ways and allows one to select the items for download.

One ‘drawback’ of this application is that it can only download and play Audible’s enhanced audio format. This means the downloads are quite big, 28MB per hour of audio. Not all titles are available in the enhanced format, out of my library of 24 titles, 2 are not available in enhanced audio format, so I can’t play them using this android app. This level of audio fidelity is wasted on a mobile device one will use while exercising, driving the car etc. As a result it is best to download the files while attached to a WiFi network for speed and to ensure you don’t hit any download caps your provider may have set. This means you really need to download files prior to heading out the door. In the discussion forum the developers have mentioned they will support lower fidelity file types in the future. The only way to download enhanced audio format using the app is to first ensure that your audible media is setup as enhanced using your account on the web, you can’t change format via the phone.

If you already have the enhanced audio files downloaded to your PC/Mac it is possible to simply copy the .aax files to the Audible folder on your android phone and the application will automatically detect them when it is launched. The application gives one a simple way to remove old audio files from your phone to free up space, long hold the title and chose remove.

The application fully supports chapters and bookmarks as with other audible players on other devices and on your desktop. One feature that appears to b missing is the ability for it to synchronize the place in any audio file to allow one to pick-up where you left off if you resume on another device. This feature is present with some supported audible devices, so this is a disappointment.

At this time it is not possible to search for or add books to your library via the app, you have to visit the website to do that, after which one can refresh your library on the phone and download the ebook. I am certain they will add this feature soon, it will encourage book purchases so should be high on the feature list for the app.

One feature of all audible players I dislike is the inability to manually advance to any point in the current file and therefore skip over uninteresting parts of the audio track. This application is no exception. Book chapters can be an hour or more each so I don’t find the ability to jump to/from chapters meets all of my needs. Android media player is much better in this respect. If you really need this ability then convert your audible files to mp3’s and play using the Android media player using the procedure I detailed in this other post. However the convenience to download directly to your android device instead of going through a multi-step process on your computer somewhat makes up for this drawback.

Summary

This is a must download for anyone who has an Audible account and an Android device.