Software That Can Help Your E-Reading Tablet

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Of course this article applies to my Nook Tablet, but as I wrote it I realized it might be useful to folks with Kindle Fires or really any portable device that is picky about file formats and such. Here I have two wonderful and free pieces of software that, once configured, make getting cool stuff onto my tablet so much easier.

handbrake-logoThe first one is Handbrake. Now there are a lot of video encoders out there, and I have tried a number of them. Usually the free ones, which shouldn’t surprise any of my regular readers. Handbrake initially seemed too technical, but turned out to be quite simple. You just need to create a new set of settings, and configure it based on instructions found here. Set it once, save it, and forget about it. After that you just pick the files you want to encode one at a time, pick the default output location of your choice, and add the job to the Encode Queue. Once all your video files are set up this way, it would be best to start the encoder when you don’t plan on doing anything else with your system for awhile. I’d recommend at night while you sleep. From personal experience, I tried playing Minecraft once while this intensive process was running. It was not good. Of course, many folks have better systems than I do and probably don’t need to worry.

Calibre_LogoThe other piece of wonderfully free software is called Calibre. This is an e-book management tool. This is a necessity for me, since I had various sources for my e-books and some didn’t come with covers or in the right format. This tool will convert between all the common formats for you. It makes it easy to edit the metadata behind each file. It even helps you sync them to your device. Their website has a 10 minute demo video that’s worth the time to watch if you download this.

I hope these software tools work as well for you as they do for me. It took me a bit of time to pick these out from among their respective crowds, and sparing you that headache is my goal. Happy reading!

Why I Selected The Nook Tablet Over The Kindle Fire

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I will tell you honestly, I really wanted the Kindle Fire to win this fight. It’s backed by a stronger company, offering more media services. Any time I search for a book, Amazon’s typically the first link that pops up and well over half of them have Kindle versions available.

But my reasoning boiled down to a few sharp differences between the two. First, and potentially the most important, is the presence of a Netflix app. Yes, it is likely that the Fire will be getting one in the coming months. But it’s instant streaming video. INSTANT. Who has time to wait months? I did some setup work on a Nook Tablet someone else is getting for Xmas, and within a minute of connecting to the Internet, I was streaming the first episode of Sherlock to the beautiful color screen. Now with a stand to prop the thing up, it becomes a little television that can show me hours of old Warehouse 13 or How It’s Made episodes.

Another contrast is the option to expand memory. Now Nook has taken a lot of heat in this area, but it still comes out on top in my opinion. The Kindle Fire has 8GB of memory, 5-6 of which are available for whatever you want to put on it. Apps, books, pictures, etc. all go on that 5-6GB. It also has a cloud storage service, so the only Amazon content you need on the device is the thing you’re currently watching or reading.

But on the Nook – with its 16GB hard drive – they currently have it formatted so that only 1GB is available for apps, books, pictures, and other stuff. The reason they’re doing that is because their online cloud storage isn’t as robust, or they just don’t want to deal with the headache. Instead, they have given the other 13GB (2 for OS, 1 for free use) to house Barnes & Noble specific content.

Now that may all sound like a major slam, but as I said in my previous post on this, the Nook offers expandable memory. That means with the purchase of one tiny memory card, I will have 33GB of space to use as I please. Which I will appreciate a lot, because a number of the books and apps I want may not come from the B&N digital store. Through various sources, I’ve collected a couple interesting books that I want to read, and they’re all waiting on my computer to be loaded on my Nook when I get it.

The last consideration was file formats. My wife mentioned that I made it look like the Nook Tablet supported a ton more file types. The thing was, I copied that information from Amazon and B&N’s sites, respectively. So the truth of the matter is that the Nook actually DOES support a ton more formats. And since the Nook seems to have come without any custom software to convert files to acceptable types, it makes my job of finding or converting to the right stuff a lot easier.

One super benefit to getting either the Kindle or the Nook: technology is actually making me want to read more. I already enjoyed reading, but most technology only takes me away from new books. Wii and computer games are awesome, but I have felt them pulling me away from time enjoying a good fantasy novel. Plus other people around me will sometimes listen to a story I read in a book. Telling them about Team Fortress 2 gets boring fast if they don’t play the game. “I blew up the guy standing in front of me, then the guy behind him shot me and I died.” That’s cool, but not as interesting as Sherlock Holmes gathering pieces of evidence through his extreme observational skills and deductive reasoning.

Now that I am super interested in reading more, I’ve found a ton of books that I’d like to pick up for the cheaper digital price and enjoy. Here’s a list of some of them.

The Measure of Magic by Terry Brooks
It came out in August and I still haven’t gotten it from the library or picked it up myself.

G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, by Ian Ker
As I said, super interesting dude that probably led a super interesting life.

God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusadesby Rodney Stark

Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, by Craig S. Keener

What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

The Fire by James Patterson

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Nerdfighteria FTW!

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Saw the crappy movie based on it. Might as well read the book.

The Art Museumby Phaidon Press

Good Eats: The early years
Good Eats: The middle years
Good Eats 3: the later years
I’m Just Here For The Food

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh
Blame Doctor Who for my sudden interest in this author’s life

City of Bonesby Cassandra Clare

The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma

Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Kindle Fire VS Nook Tablet

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Geek.com's comparison photo

A few days ago, my dad asked me what I knew about the Nook. He was thinking about getting something he could read books on as well as surf the web and check email occasionally. So being the dutiful son I am, I spent 40 minutes putting together a spreadsheet to compare all the different features of Nook’s new tablet with Amazon’s new Kindle Fire.

Part of the reason these two products are creating such a splash is because of their price. While an iPad or iPad2 will run you closer to $500, both of these products are half that. And they don’t come with any contracts attaching you to a phone company’s Internet service. And unlike many of the cheap tablets out there already, these two are backed by Barnes & Noble and Amazon. They both already have an online infrastructure built up to push books to folks. Amazon at least (I haven’t check B&N as well) also has movies and music, making it a miniature iTunes. Because these two companies are so big and plan to sell more content to the person buying their device, they can also do like Apple and push a heavy subsidy, keeping the price of their device lower than a competitor with the same hardware who lacks the online sales.

  Kindle Fire Nook Tablet
Price $199.00 $250.00
  WiFi WiFi
Internet Amazon Silk cloud-accelerated browser “lightning fast Email, Web & smooth streaming video”
Display 7″ vibrant color IPS 7″ VividView touchscreen
battery life, wireless off 8 hrs continuous reading or 7.5 hrs video playback 11.5 hrs continuous reading or 9 hrs video
storage 8gb on device for 6k books 16gb, plus expandable memory with SD cards
  Free cloud storage for all Amazon content Always free Nook support in-store, + “Nook Cloud for backing up content and sharing some data??”
  multi-touch, dual core processor, 512mb ram multi-touch, dual core processor, 1gb RAM
  All of Amazon’s Android apps (Pandora) lots of games & apps (Pandora)
  Netflix app may be in DEV Netflix app
file types Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8. Load EPUB (including Adobe DRM or DRM free) or PDF file types from your computer or microSD card
    Other documents: XLS, DOC, PPT, TXT, DOCM, XLSM, PPTM, PPSX, PPSM, DOCX, XLX, PPTX
    Watch videos in MP4, or Adobe Flash Player format, 3GP, 3G2 MKV, WEBM (Video Codecs: H.264, MPEG-4, H.263, VP8)
    Load photos and create personal wallpaper: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
    Play audio on built-in mono speaker: MP3, MP4, AAC, AMR, WAV, OGG (Audio Codecs MP3, AAC, AMR, LPCM, OGG Vorbis)  

 So let’s look at features. I’ll start with the things that, in my mind, argue for the Kindle Fire. It’s $50 cheaper, which gives it that $200 price tag that will help make it all the more of an impulse buy for people. Amazon has integrated the browser with cloud acceleration. So supposedly this will make commonly visited webpages load much faster than if they weren’t accelerated by the cloud. It also sports free cloud storage for any of that Amazon content I mentioned earlier. That will make the hard drive space last a lot longer, if you don’t have to worry about bogging it down with books, music & movies that you buy. It also comes with the Amazon App Market. This is a different twist on the Android Market that Google has. Basically Amazon makes some of its own deals with developers (like Plants VS Zombies), and hosts their apps on Amazon. Now many of the apps Android users love will also be available from Amazon, but not all of them. I saw from a quick scan that Dropbox is not available from Amazon, so I’d have to change my file syncing software to SugarSync if I bought this device. It also supposedly has a Netflix app in development, but not yet available.

Now for the Nook Tablet. It has a longer lasting battery. The times listed above are from the company, and usually companies pad their battery estimates a bit. After both products are for sale, people will start doing benchmarks to see if they really can last as long as they claim. It has twice the hard drive space as well as expandable memory thru SD cards. I like this feature quite a bit, since I always worry about running out of space on things. For those of you who don’t like tech support over the phone where you have to figure out how to describe the problem, the Nook also sports ‘free in-store support’. So go to your local B&N store, and someone there can help you troubleshoot any issue you’re having. It has twice as much RAM as the Fire, and an already developed Netflix app. And a big difference for me is that Nook supports EPUB file format. I have access to different book sources, and some of them may be most easily available in this format. And I like that I have the option.

For all the things they have in favor of either, some may be misleading as to how important they are to the final product. In early previews, some folks reported the Nook being a little sluggish in its interface, whereas the Fire (sporting good old Android) was rather zippy. So that RAM amount really might not be such a big perk. Heck, the iPad2 has just 512MB and it does fine according to most folks. But any issues the Nook had may be ironed out before it actually goes on sale, or via an update you can download after you activate the device the first time.

As I told my dad, my simple answer is this: I’d wait. Both products either just went on sale or are in pre-order stage. Let them hit the hands of the early adopters, let product reviews roll in and security/functionality bugs get patched. And with all the extra information I then have, I’ll decide which one I want and ask Santa for it.

Additonal reading:
Gizmodo

Geek.com

HTC Aria Review: One Year Later

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A year and a half ago, I consulted the Internets looking for recommendations about a new phone.

Shortly thereafter, I detailed my purchasing decision in getting the HTC Aria.

Here I am one year later, and I have put a lot of miles on this phone. I’ve logged 1,000+ text messages per month, sucked my minuscule data plan dry regularly, and even loaded a different UI onto it. At times it worked beautifully, but this experience has also been tainted by a few bad moments.

Let’s start with the data plan. This complaint is on AT&T, not on the phone necessarily. For budgetary reasons (and to avoid living with my phone in my hand), I opted for the 200MB plan. Those of you who use a lot of data on your phones know just how ridiculously tiny that is. The first few months, I burned through it in the first couple weeks and went back to no-data-except-WiFi for the weeks following. After getting close to the cap (and going over once or twice), I have settled into a policy of using it only when needed or desperately wanted. So when I go somewhere new, the GPS gets brought up. To be honest, the Navigation uses very little data. And occasionally I like to check the weather. And when I’m bored, I’ll connect to check my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. There’s also a very rare YouTube video. Yes, I know. This sounds like a lot of checking. But it’s really so little in comparison to what would be done with an unlimited plan. And for that 200MB cap, most months I don’t dare breaking 150.

Now why would I be wary of approaching the cap again? Simple: AT&T’s alert system SUCKS. I really can’t state this strongly enough without swearing. If you call the system code *3282# ( or *DATA#), AT&T texts you with how many texts you’ve sent and how much of your data you’ve consumed. That sounds nifty, but the total isn’t real-time. It usually seemed to be what I’d consumed by mid-morning. So if I watch 4 or 5 YouTube videos or stream some Pandora, I have no good way of knowing how much closer I am to my cap until the next day.

Some of you may know that AT&T has a warning system. You can set it up where they text you when 60% and 90% and 100% of your data plan has been consumed. But this looks at that daily calculated total, not real-time. So after watching 5 YouTube videos, I’d get woken up Saturday morning with all 3 text warnings in my messaging app. At which point I’m immediately charged an additional $15 and my cap is now 400MB. Woohoo.

My next problem was one of timing. The HTC Aria was one of the first Android phones that AT&T offered. It had such a good response that they jumped in to fully offering Android’s newest and best phones. But that left the Aria to be forgotten and quickly feel out-dated. A month after spending $200 for a 2 year contract with this now-small touchscreen phone, I saw phones bigger, faster, and more capable than mine for $100.
The next complaint was updates. I was duly warned that a lot of the phone manufacturers (HTC included) and phone companies (AT&T included) had a habit of never doing Over The Air updates to the phone’s operating system. So this left me stranded with an older version. My frustration was probably made worse by all the technology blogs I follow. They brag how awesome live wallpapers are. Do I get to have those? Nope. Never. They have a slew of cool games, bug fixes, and redesigns that are all out of my reach. Right now, my mother has a cooler phone than I do (at half the price and twice the size).

The last complaint I have is on AT&T entirely. They tell the phone manufacturers to lock the handsets. So even though I bought the phone and it’s my legal property, they have kept me from rooting it and running all the apps and custom UIs that are out there to be had. I know why they did it. They were scared that I was going to take my 200MB data plan, and tether it to a laptop…. Right…

All these disturbances aside, it has been a very good phone. I have played a number of fun games on it. The last 3 books I’ve read have been on its diminutive screen (which is probably why my eyes hurt). Its GPS capability has navigated me safely to and around Indianapolis when I moved here earlier this year. It syncs with my calendar, Gmail and Evernote. It even holds my passwords in a KeePass file that I update via Dropbox on my desktop at home. It has acted as my loyal alarm clock. It even helped my wife tune her violin. With my next phone purchase coming up, I’m glad that I get to keep this phone. It will be a nice little Wi-Fi connection from anywhere in my house. It might even become an mp3 & video player, as my old one has a smaller screen.

What new phone am I looking to get? Well, that’s a topic for another post. Have a wonderful day.

I Beat Portal

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Remember when I mentioned Portal went free for a little while?

Well I downloaded it and beat it. Being the small game that it was (originally coming in Orange Box with 2 or 3 other games), I knocked it out in a day.

 

It really is a very nice little puzzle game. Some parts were a bit confusing, where I really didn’t know where to go and wandered around until inspiration would strike. I think I did have an easier time of it, since I’d watched HankGames play thru it a couple months earlier.

 

Who knows? Maybe after Portal 3 comes out, they’ll discount Portal 2 and I can play that one as well. Maybe by then we’ll have 2 computers in my house, so the wife and I can enjoy some co-op mode.

Portal Is Free, Or FREE CAKE

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CNET is where I saw the good news. The wonderful puzzle game known as Portal is now free to download and play. There’s a bit of a rush, as this offer is apparently going until September 20. First you will need to install Steam, which you can do here. Then look up Portal on their website. There are many versions of Portal (Portal, Portal 2, Portal 1+2 combo pack…), and only one of them is free. Select that one.

If you don’t know what Portal is… wow. I’m scared for your children.

It’s categorized as a single-player first-person puzzle platform game. You are given a gun that shoots two portals in walls and many other places. You can then move thru one portal to the other… I know, it doesn’t sound like much. Head over to YouTube and see any of the thousands of videos showing off gameplay.

What the Heck is Google Plus?

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Many of you may have been hearing about Google + lately in the news. Google has thrown its hand into the social networking arena again. You might have questions about what the point of it is, and why you would ever switch away from your beloved Facebook.

Well the good news is, I can direct you to some things that might help explain. I was going to try to explain myself, but I waited long enough that a BUNCH of other people beat me to explaining it. So here’s some helpful links to get you started.

Here’s a handy chart for some quick comparison to your crack-like addiction, Facebook.

A site called Geekmom has written a three post series about what Google+ is and what can be done with it. It’s actually a collection of writers, and usually very interesting.

The site Mashable did a complete guide, including pictures and walk-throughs of all that Google + is supposedly capable of. If you’re interested enough to read it all, it should answer every question you have about the service.

CNet is a technology news site. One of their reporters did a piece on some of the things Google has to fix, titled “Google+ has its minuses“. Some of these have already been handled, but some of them may continue to be an issue for a little while.

Overall though, what a lot of people like about Google + boils down to one thing. IT ISN’T FACEBOOK. I have shut down my account twice now, and yet I keep getting pulled back into it. The driving reason is usually that I have a friend or two that uploads their pictures to Facebook and that’s the ONLY way to see their pictures. They don’t develop them, and it would be too much of a hassle to e-mail them or host them anywhere else. And Facebook always holds onto all my data after I’ve closed my account. It’s been reported that there is a serious DELETE button somewhere that will actually remove your data, but at this point I just don’t trust Facebook. It also drives me nuts that some folks keep finding new Facebook apps that fill my Stream with every turnip purchase they make, and their horoscope, and they’re percentage of happiness. I have to block out every app, when in Google+ I can just relegate these individuals to their own Circle. Once there, I could check on them just when I’m in the mood, and not have them clutter out pictures of my friends’ new baby girl that I actually care to see.
Another thing I like about it is that it fuses in Twitter better. On Facebook it is just people I know (however obscurely I may know them; I got an invite the other day to be friends with one of my sister-in-law’s students yesterday. The kid’s 12, probably just got his own Facebook, and wants to get more total ‘friends’ than one of his school buddies). On Twitter I can get stuff from famous folk, both their own rantings as well as links to stuff they like and funny pictures they take. Both of those can be combined in Google+. I’m already following Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, and some of the writers of technology blogs I read. It’s all been fairly interesting, and has turned checking Facebook into a lame chore.
Overall I like it, and I hope to see you on there. And don’t worry; it doesn’t tell me what Circle of friends you put me in. You can throw me in your Fascist Blowhards circle and I’ll have no idea. And if you want an invite, let me know. I don’t recall if they’ve fully opened it to the public yet.

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