May 31, 2009

Read An E-Book On An E-Reader With E-Ink On E-Paper, Today!

Posted in Hardware, Humor, Screen at 2:33 pm by Richard Fink

I’m confused. My Kindle is really an iRex 1000S. And when people ask if it’s an E-Book, I say “Yes”, but I really think “No”.
E-this. E-that. E-gads, what does it all mean?
Here’s my current dictionary for the world of digital books:

E-Book
An E-Book is not the hardware device with a screen that you hold in your hands. An E-Book is software. An E-Book is the digital file that holds the text and images that comprise the “book”. A PDF, for example. This distinction makes for clearer usage I think. So, in my head at least, that’s the way I’ve set it up.
In other heads, the terms “E-Book” and “E-Reader” are likely to get shuffled around and used interchangeably for some time.
E-Reader
An E-Reader is a hardware device on which you read E-Books. The Kindle is an E-Reader.
But if the history of brand names is any guide – to add to the confusion – ”Kindle” might quickly go from referring to a specific product to categorical catch-all, meaning simply, “E-Reader”. No matter what the manufacturer.
“Is that a Kindle?” Yeah, it’s an iRex Kindle. But the screen’s a little smudged, got a Kleenex? Thanks.
E-Ink
This term, I wish, would just go away. It does a lousy job of describing what it’s trying to describe. Where do you put a device that uses E-Ink to make sure it doesn’t leak accidentally and send you running to the dry-cleaners? Is my laptop display using Liquid Crystal Ink? And where can you buy E-Whiteout? Staples doesn’t have that, it seems.
Please move to the DO NOT USE column.
E-Paper
“E-Paper” does, nicely, describe the appearance of the kind of screens to be found on the Kindle and similar devices. This one’s a keeper.

The evolution of language is a fascinating sport where everyone gets to play.
About a month ago, I was flying from Florida to New York. Before takeoff, the flight attendant stopped by my seat, and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to turn off your book.” And then she grinned, leaned down a bit, and added, “You know, I just love getting to say that!”
I knew exactly what she meant.

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May 18, 2009

Screen Resolution And Me: Clarity Begins At Home

Posted in Hardware, Screen at 11:50 pm by Richard Fink

I share a home office with my wife. We trade: she provides a constant reminder of the frustration that computers cause most ordinary humans and I provide desktop support. And I am, actually, a certified systems engineer with lots of experience configuring workstations. And for that I was well-paid. So my wife gets a bargain and I don’t ever forget that there is no such thing as a User Interface too simple – a daily reminder I wish I could transmit brain-to-brain to a lot of web developers and designers out there.
My wife has a big Samsung LCD screen that feeds off a Sony laptop running Vista. Ever since we got it, it has never looked right. Fuzzy. I remember playing around with the desktop settings a few times to get the icons and icon text bigger (but still fuzzy) and chalking up the overall lack of sharpness to the largeness of the screen. The resolution was set at 1440 x 900 – inherited from the laptop’s built-in display, probably. I don’t think I even tried jacking it up further because I assumed that everything would become unusably small.
“Damned computers”, I thought to myself. After all, back in the day, plenty of CRT’s looked like hell because in the end, big but a little fuzzy beat out less fuzzy but extremely small. So I let it go.
Then, about a week ago I posted a review of screen-readability guru Bill Hill’s article about screen resolution and how it is so often set wrong.
But not by me, no, never. Couldn’t happen. I’m a systems engineer, right? I’m sitting pretty.
Then a few days later, a light in my brain flashed on.
I walked over to my wife’s screen and, sure enough, when the resolution in Vista’s Display settings were bumped up in line with the screen’s “native resolution” – in this case 1680 x 1050 – everything sharpened up beautifully. And without getting unusably small.
This little episode makes me suspect that a lot of the complaints about Windows Vista have come from it’s having been introduced at about the same time the migration to LCD screens was picking up steam along with the move to laptops where, if a desktop display was also used and it was wide-screen, it was likely to inherit the settings of the physically smaller laptop display. Not knowing about any other options, people simply accepted whatever settings appeared.
A headache in the making, absolutely. It makes you wonder why there wasn’t or isn’t a wizard that pops up to walk people through the options when a new display screen is detected.
But of course experts like me wouldn’t need it. Truly, there is no substitute for experience.