Monday, July 6, 2015

Top 5 Tips for Reading on your Smartphone


There is a large segment of the population that do not have a dedicated e-reader like the Kindle and instead read on their smartphones. There is no shortage of apps from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and hundreds of others that allow you to read short fiction, novels and even classics like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

I must say that I have been reading lots more on my phone, since upgrading to the iPhone 6 Plus. The giant phone screen is totally indicative to long reading sessions, but this and all other phones have some drawbacks. Today I am offering my top 5 tips for reading on your smartphone.

1) Disable those pesky notifications on your phone. Nothing is worse than getting into a utterly compelling plot development in a good book and getting email and Facebook notification pings. This is one of the big reasons why reading something short is easy, but longer reads can break immersion.

This is not easily done for phones that have iOS, basically you have to turn notifications off on an app by app basis, or put it in airplane mode. Android makes it easier, when a notification pops up in your notification shade you can simply long press on it to bring up a link to the notification page for that app via the "i" icon. It's a shortcut to the app notification page, which you'll also find listed at Settings > Sound & notification > App notifications. Every app is listed here and you can decide if you want to turn notifications off by toggling the Block option.

2) Pick a page turner. Remember that not even Ernest Hemingway got through Ulysses. This is not the time to get overly ambitious. Is this a book that would normally hold your interest the whole way through? This is an ideal e-book to read on your phone.

3) The Synergy. Major e-book stores have a powerful synchronization feature that makes a lot of sense for people who might have multiple devices. You can start reading a book on a Nook in the evening. When going to work, just bust out your smartphone, open the Nook app, and start reading exactly at the location you left off last night.

4) Easily Customize your reading experience. Let’s face it, not everyone is blessed with great eye sight. Some people wear glasses, others get old and the eyes start to go or maybe your dyslexic. Most smartphone apps have the ability to enlarge the size of the fonts in order to make it more readable. Companies like Kobo even have a dyslexic font that optimizes every book to make it appealing to read.

There is also plenty of options to engage in nighttime reading mode, which is starting to get really popular. You can change the background of the book to be black and the text switches to white. This is tremendously useful if you tend to read on your phone in low-light conditions or at night.

5) Let it feel weird at first. You’re turning a buzzing portal into a static page. You need to give yourself some time to experiment before it takes. It feels completely weird for the first 10% of the book, and then it starts to feel completely natural.

Listen to William Gibson Read Neuromancer


There aren’t many authors that narrate their own audiobooks, but this is precisely what William Gibson did in 1994. He recorded it on a series of cassette tapes and they were quietly discontinued soon thereafter. The audiobook never got published on CD’s or to the digital realm, which is a crying shame. Today, you can now download them and listen to the recording as the original author intended.

With 1984's Neuromancer, William Gibson may not have invented cyberpunk, but he certainly crystallized it. The novel exemplifies the tradition's mandate to bring together "high tech and low life," or, in the words of Gibson himself, to explore what "any given science-fiction favorite would look like if we could crank up the resolution." It may have its direct predecessors, but Gibson's tale of hackers, street samurai, conspiracists, and shadowy artificial intelligences against virtual reality, dystopian urban Japan, and a variety of other international and technological backdrops remains not just archetypal but, unusually for older technology-oriented fiction, exciting. Now you can not only read Gibson's cyberpunk-defining words, but hear them in Gibson's voice: a 1994 abridged edition, released only on cassette tapes and now long out of print, resides in MP3 form online here .

Neuromancer (abridged) read by William Gibson
Tape 1, side 1
Tape 1, side 2
Tape 2, side 1
Tape 2, side 2
Tape 3, side 1
Tape 3, side 2
Tape 4, side 1
Tape 4, side 2

Top 5 e-readers for Summer 2015


It’s summertime and the living is easy! Many people are looking to buy a new device to read e-books at the cottage or just to bring with them to the beach. There are a slew of new resolution devices on the market that not only give you a better overall reading experience but they also allow you to read in the dark! Today, we take a look at the top 5 e-readers for the summer.

Energy Sistem PRO+

We first reviewed the Energy Sistem PRO back in February and were impressed by the fact it ran Android and allowed users to install their own apps. One of the drawbacks that it was running e Ink Pearl, which is fairly old by today's standards. This has since been remedied with the advent of the Energy Sistem PRO+ that has e Ink Carta.

I think the Energy Reader PRO+ is a viable investment for those looking for a solid alternative to Kindle or Kobo, because its platform agnostic. The device itself has a resolution of 1024×758 pixels. It has a touchscreen, which makes it easy to click and navigate around the UI or just simply flip the pages in your favorite e-Book. It also incorporates a front-lit screen that allows users to read in the dark.

Underneath the hood is a ARM Cortex A9 1.0Ghz dual core processor and 8 GB of internal memory. It also has the option to expand the memory up to 64GB with a SD/SDHC card. The PRO+ is available to order from the main Energy Sistem website and costs 129 €. 

Onyx Boox i86 HD Plus

The standard e-reader is only six inches, and Onyx has bucked the trend with the advent of the i86 HD Plus. It features Google Android 4.04, so you can install any e-reading app you want.

The Onyx Boox i86 Plus features an eight inch IR touchscreen with a resolution of 1600 x 1200 with 250 PPI. It does not have a front light like most contemporary e-readers which helps keep the cost down.

This particular e-reader model is not using a super modern version of e-paper, as found on the Kindle Voyage or Kobo H2o, instead it is employing an older form of Pearl. Normally, I would lament the screen quality is poor, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, reading e-books, manga and PDF files is amazing. Onyx has a bunch of software functions that enhance the rendering of image heavy content.

Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ single core processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of internal storage. There is compatibility for an Micro SD, so you can easily enhance it further up to 32 GB.

One of the most exciting features about this reader is the fact it has Bluetooth and a 3.5mm headphone jack. This allows for the playbook of audiobooks and music. In addition, you can hook up external speakers to get a ton of streaming content from companies such as Spotify or Soundcloud. This e-reader costs 199,99 € and you can order one HERE.

Kobo Glo HD

The Kobo Glo HD is a brand new e-reader that features a high resolution display and was  designed to be both economical and heavily compete against the Kindle Voyage.

The brand new Kobo Glo HD features a six inch e-ink Carta screen with a resolution of 1448×1072 and 300 PPI. It has the same front-lit display as the Kobo Aura H2O, so you will be able to read in low-light conditions or complete darkness.

I think the main reason Kobo  rushed the Glo HD to the market was because of the overwhelming success of the premium Kindle Voyage. This Amazon branded device was released late last year and at the time had the best resolution and highest PPI in the world. It also carried a hefty price, retailing for $199 US vs the $129 of the Glo HD. Due to the success of the Kobo Glo HD, Amazon has countered with the new Paperwhite 3, which matches the Glo HD specs .

Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ processor and 4 GB of internal storage. When you take the e-reader out of the box for the first time you only have 3.1 GB of memory, primarily because the OS  takes up a fair amount of space.   This model does have a hidden SD card, but the average user will not be able to take advantage of high memory, because you need to employ cloning software, since the entire OS is stored on it.

Finally, if you are going to be be spending a lot of time around water, such as the beach or swimming pool, you will want to check out the Kobo H2O. It came out last year, but it has a bigger screen than the Glo HD and is totally waterproof.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3

We decided to include the Paperwhite 3 on our list because it just started shipping at the end of June and has a very respectable price tag of $139.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3 has a e-ink Carta display screen with a resolution of 1430×1080  and 300 PPI. This is a huge upgrade from the 2013 model which only had 1024×768 and 212 PPI.

When it comes to the visual aesthetics the new Paperwhite is virtually indistinguishable from the 2nd generation model. The only change on the hardware is very subtle, the Kindle logo on the front is piano black, while the older edition had it in pure white. The retail packaging also makes reference to 300 PPI, so this should aid you if you are looking to buy he latest edition and can't really tell what model you are looking at.

Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. There is 4 GB of internal storage and the majority of your content will be held in the cloud.  There is certainly enough space to have a thousand e-books on your device at any given time.

One of the big reasons why I decided to recommend this e-reader is because the base price is very cheap, but there is an optional 3G variant for $209. Amazon is the only company to charge a premium price for a data enabled reader that does not charge any monthly subscriptions, so you can buy e-books no matter where you are in the world, without having to pay roaming or extra fees.  This is important if you are looking for a vacation e-reader and if you are normally outside a WIFI network.

Pocketbook Sense

The Pocketbook Sense is a brand new e-reader and has just hit the open market in Europe and North America.  One thing that is clearly evident at first glance is how well designed it is.  Pocketbook is not known for having sexy looking digital readers, but the Sense is their best offering to date.

The Pocketbook Sense features a six inch e-ink Pearl HD screen with a resolution of 1024×758.  I was afraid that the outdated screen might make this reader dead in the water, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Instead of going with infrared touch, Pocketbook made the decision to go with a capacitive touchscreen display. This makes pinching and zooming, as well as drawing very robust.

Underneath the hood is a 1 GHZ processor, 128 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal storage. You can enhance the memory  up to 32 GB via the Micro SD card and it also has a Mini USB to charge and send data to your e-reader.

One thing I really liked about the design is the manual page turn keys. Rather than have them on the front of the device, Pocketbook has them on the back. They are positioned exactly how you would hold it, so its very intuitive to hold it with one hand. Alternatively you can simply use the touchscreen display. It costs 149 euros and you can buy one from HERE.

Reviewing Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

It happens a couple times a year that you come across a book that hits all the right notes and leaves you wandering around the house afterward wondering what you do with yourself now that you are finished with it. I found myself in this state of ennui last night after finishing J. Ryan Stradal's extraordinary foodie novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

{AD75571D-92BC-4375-A93B-FC22533D9301}Img400Eva Thorvald has a gift. Her palate is beyond compare and her intelligence and taste are exceptional. Throughout the novel the reader spies on Eva as she matures in her taste and understanding of ingredients. From walleye caught and grilled directly after, to the perfect variety of heirloom tomato, and corn fresh off the stalk, the novel follows a young woman who becomes a legend in the food world. Eva eventually runs a dinner club whose waiting list is hundreds deep and so secret that it changes location. The final chapter in the novel reveals Eva's true prowess and brings all the ingredients that have shaped her young life together.

Each chapter of the novel is from a different perspective. From her father, to her, her cousin, a boyfriend, and then people she has brief encounters with. The novel moves from direct contact and insight into our main character to a distant glimpses of her. It is a wonderful set up to reflect how elusive and legendary she becomes. Likewise, the ingredients and dishes featured in each chapter build up. Each of them eventually make their way into the dinner at the end of the book and are a reflection of who our chef is. They are a testament to the foodie world and how different people look at food and utilize it. One story of a woman who makes contest winning peanut butter bars then takes them to a competition where all the other recipes state where the ingredients are sourced from is the perfect example of the clash of cultures.

Underneath all the food and ingredients that marry the novel together is the story of individual struggles and characters that are beautifully flawed. Often when reading books that diverge from the main character's side, I get upset because I've formed a relationship with that person, but I found myself digging into each new chapter with vigor, wanting only to consume a new person's story.

Pick this novel up. Read it with a glass of wine, iced tea, or a sandwich (you're going to want to eat/drink something tasty while reading it), and revel in the perfect marriage of ingredients that J. Ryan Stradal lays before you.

Kindle Paperwhite 3 PDF Review (+Video)

Most people use Kindle ereaders to read ebooks from Amazon, but Kindles also support other formats, including PDF. PDF files come in a wide variety of sizes and types, just about every one you get lays out differently. This often makes reading PDFs on smaller 6-inch screens problematic—a device like the Onyx Boox M96 with […]

The triumphant return of the Raspberry Pi Guy

Matt Timmons-Brown, who you may know better as The Raspberry Pi Guy, is one of our favourite makers of Raspberry Pi tutorials. Those of you who follow him will have noticed that he’s been curiously absent since the start of the year.

There’s a reason for that: despite having a work ethic and demeanour that makes most of us at Pi Towers look like eight-year-olds, Matt’s actually surprisingly youthful. This summer, he’s been doing his GCSE exams, so he took a few months away from making tutorials to prepare and revise.

We’re pleased to hear he’s finished, and he’s dived straight back in to video-making. Matt’s been wrapping up a tutorial series on robotics. You can watch them all below. If you’re trying to think up a Raspberry Pi project and don’t know where to start, go and check out The Raspberry Pi Guy’s YouTube channel  – you’ll fine beginner, intermediate and advanced tutorials, reviews, and much more.

Herewith robots.

Welcome back, Matt: we’re sure your exam results will be spectacular, and we’re looking forward to more tutorials!

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