Sunday, February 28, 2010

Smoking hiatus reaches five year mark

At seven dollars a pack, this gets easier and easier, but my smoking hiatus -- to be resumed once technology or imminent death changes my reward/penalty structure -- is now at five years.

It hasn't been particularly difficult, but it would be awfully nice for nano-technology to finally pay off in the form of carcinogen and heart disease scrubbing lung-based nano-bots.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Insurance Rate Hikes

WellPoint CEO defends rate hikes as pressure grows

Just chose a recent headline for the above -- but when I saw this sort of stuff occurring just around the time Obama is making his second push for health reform I started wondering.

This is exactly what health reformers should be blazing all over their ads -- along with anecdotal stories about the middle class getting squeezed out of health care.  Don't insurers know that?

And of course they do.  Now, there's no shortage of stupidity running the world, so that's the mostly likely answer.

But a sharp, long-sighted insurance Overlord might realize that health care reform either occurs now -- or it occurs later after the problems have become catastrophic -- since premium increases drive more people out of the insurance pool, pushing them to rely more on the ER, making hospitals shift more of the overage burden to paying customers, driving premiums up further, and thus pushing yet more people out of the insurance pool.

Along the line suddenly some European system polls extremely high and poof -- health insurance industry vanishes.

Obama's system retains the private insurance industry and dumps a lot more payers into it.  How it was in the 90s might be the best alternative -- but that's not possible.  So "helping" the Obama reforms go through rather than watch their business disappear in ten years might be an incentive to do media-attention-grabbing things now.

The iPhone Touch Screen

The presence of a touch screen on a device had previously sounded good in theory but always rather sucked in practice. 

It typically involved stabbing repeatedly at touch screens on bank atms and grocery store card readers until they finally registered the contact and then occasionally decided to register it multiple times.

And the Sony Reader with touch reinforced all that.  Touch, then screen flickers dark.  Then one second later it scrolls -- hopefully not too far.

But the iPhone touch screen rocked.  Did the touch two fingers to the Google map and squeeze or spread to zoom in and out.  Scrolled instantly.  Totally responsive.

Now just put that on a device big enough that I'll find several uses for it and I'll be pleased.

Monday, February 22, 2010

eReader Testing

My big concern with the iPad is if I can read off it for hours at a chunk.  So to test what I did was load up a pdf of Closing Arguments on my laptop, rotate the text so it'd read up and down the long side of the screen, then hold the laptop like an open book.

The image is representative, but it's from my wife's little netbook instead of my laptop.

Reading off the screen was good -- and had the added advantage that I didn't need a booklight.  Not sure if it's as easy on the eyes over the long term as an electronic ink display.  But read through the full 114 page novella in maybe 3 hours, which I think is faster than normal for me.

The netbook is actually more representative of what the iPad would be like since it's screen is almost the same size.  As you can see in the photo, digest-sized or prestige paperback sized books fit the screen almost perfectly.

I also tried Kindle for the PC, but couldn't rotate the text so didn't try reading it on screen.  At any rate, if PDF is available and reasonably close to the right scale, I prefer it to these e-Reader formats.  Changing font size can be handy, but I like reading the book in its designed layout.  For instance, in the Kindle version of Closing Arguments the little post-it section breaks aren't centered.  Layout's not a huge deal for a novel, but I see more books using the occasional layout gimmick inside the text to get across some narrative point.

I also went into a couple stores to check out eInk readers. 

First tried a couple versions of the Sony Reader. The screens seemed to refresh slow (slower that the Nook I tried later).  And this was a real issue on the Reader with a touch screen since some screens have scroll bars and they're pretty worthless if it take 1 to 2 seconds to refresh the screen.

I tried the Nook next and that was actually fairly nice for just reading.  The little LCD bar across the bottom works reasonably well (though I'm not convinced how useful it would really be).  Standard eInk refresh, but the pages flipped pretty clean and it looked good.

The Nook isn't in contention though since I want the larger screen.  And it's odd that Amazon can't get the Kindle DX into any retail outlet so that potential customers could get hands-on experience.  How many people do they expect to drop $500 on a new technology without testing it? 

Also, both the iPad and the Kindle DX are almost exactly the size of a graphic novel trade paperback -- so they'll be easy to carry.

At any rate, so far the iPad looks like the way I'll go.  I haven't read many comic books in a while, but reading them on the iPad should be perfect.  I also had a chance to fiddle around with an iPhone for a bit and that was pretty awesome.  Since I don't need a fancy phone and am looking for an eReader anyway, a large-size version of the iPhone would actually be perfect for me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Weight of Ideas

When we moved from NJ to Florida we boxed up all our books, weighed them, and mailed them so we could just throw the rest of our stuff in the car and drive.  I learned that a box of books averages 25 to 40 pounds.

That was the first of 6 moves over the following seven years.

Subsequent moves averaged 10 boxes of books for me and approximately 30 boxes for Jaru.  That's over half a ton of books.  And that's not including the bookcases.  Each move involves schlepping that half-ton of books twice -- once into the truck, and once up to the apartment.

And it's not just during moves.  You end up with a wall piled with boxes of books that every two months or so need to be re-arranged when you have to get to an outlet or adjust some furniture.

Then just last week I had to drag a 50 pound boxed bookcase up to our apartment and spend four hours punching little plastic bits through holes in cheap press-board to assemble it.

I am fucking ready to see the book as technology vanish into my personal rear-view mirror.

I'll miss the cotton gin more than I'll miss books.  At least the cotton gin hasn't personally tried to kill me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kindle DX or iPad

Getting some assignment windfalls so I'm going to celebrate by buying either a Kindle DX or an iPad (just wireless, no 3G).

I'm not sure how much I buy the idea that reading from an LCD screen is that much harder than reading E-Ink given that I spend most of the day looking at an LCD screen, and I certainly like a color display given that I have a lot of RPG pdfs in color.

On the other hand, reading a 300 page book isn't the same as glancing through web pages and writing.  And I suspect the iPad's 10 hour battery life will turn into 5 hours in practice given my experience with laptop computers. Which is an issue given that one purpose of having the reader is to use it on flights from Newark to Los Angeles, and the added hours waiting for the flight.

And, then again, the other uses of the iPad could also be handy down the line.