The best e-book site I’ve found

The best ebooks site I’ve found, by far, is the archive at the University of Adelaide in Australia. The selection is outstanding, but the presentation is even better.

Steve Thomas, the curator, takes tremendous care to ensure Adelaide’s e-books display their best on any device. Most e-books, even commercial books, pay little to no attention to formatting, and the result all too often is books that are difficult to read.

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How to disassemble a Nook Simple Touch to remove or replace a battery

If your Nook Simple Touch won’t power on, or is displaying a question mark (?) on its battery indicator, I have a four things to try. But before you go to the trouble of disassembly, try charging the device with a different charger. Some chargers fit more tightly than others, and as devices like these age, they can get picky about their chargers.

If a charger change doesn’t give you an easy fix, the next step is to disassemble it, unplug the battery, wait a good 30 seconds, then plug it back in and reassemble.

You’ll need a very small slotted screwdriver or another sharp and semi-flat object, and a T5 Torx screwdriver.

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Android Kit Kat lands on the Nook Color

I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but experimental nightly builds for Android 4.4 (Kit Kat) have arrived for the venerable Nook Color. I installed it tonight.

Since I’ve previously run other versions of Cyanogenmod on the Nook Color, the upgrade was pretty straightforward. I had to reboot to recovery, update my recovery because my existing recovery was old and incompatible, reboot again (to recovery of course), which put me in Clockworkmod 6.0.4.5, and from there I installed the Cyanogenmod 11 zip followed by the Google Apps zip.

Newly flashed Android devices sometimes take some time to settle in before they’re really usable. On this 1 GHz, 512MB device, Kit Kat does seem faster than any of the Jelly Bean builds (Android 4.1-4.3) I’ve tried to run on it, but it’s not as quick as my Samsung Galaxy S 4G running Android 4.0.4. I’ll give it a little time.

Looking back at Sam Posey’s Playing With Trains

I finally got around to reading Playing With Trains (here’s a Nook link), sportscaster Sam Posey’s 2004 memoir of 50 years as a model railroader.

Of course I was mostly interested in the first couple of chapters, where he talks about growing up with Lionel trains. It’s more a personal recollection than a complete history, which was his intent, but that’s good. The history of the consumer perspective often gets lost. He and his mother regarded American Flyer as more realistic but flimsier; Lionel was rugged but ran on unrealistic 3-rail track.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: Growing up in the 1950s, your big toy was either a train set or a fort playset–normal families couldn’t afford both. I was vaguely aware that the fort playsets existed but didn’t know that about them. Read more

Hacker chasing, circa 1987

I’m catching up on reading. Next on my reading list is The Cuckoo’s Egg, (Amazon link), Clifford Stoll’s memoir of chasing down a computer hacker in the late 1980s. In it, he describes a very different world, ruled by mainframes and minicomputers, where Unix was something special, IBM still made PCs, but desktop PCs and Macintoshes only received occasional mention, and academia and the military owned the Internet, almost literally. And, oh, by the way, the Cold War was still raging.

The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s an approachable spy thriller, written in 1989, that explains computer security to an audience that had never seen or heard of the Internet. You don’t have to be a security professional to appreciate it, though it’s a classic in the computer security world–many people read it in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decided to get into the field. Read more

Baidu: The lightweight browser for low-end Android

I went looking for a resource-friendly browser that would run well on a 1 GHz-ish Android tablet. Everything I read said that Baidu was the lightest browser on resources. Since Baidu is a Chinese company and very low-end Android tablets are common in China, this makes sense.

I’ve never been one to shy away from alternative browsers on low-end systems on other platforms. Usually I sacrifice some rendering quality, but I frequently found that preferable to waiting around for minutes for bloatware to load and pages to render at glacial speed.

So I tried out Baidu, in spite of criticisms of its user interface and annoying defaults. The annoying defaults, it turns out, are easy enough to turn off, and I found the user interface, though out of style, makes it easier to use. It has forward and back buttons, unlike most other browsers on Android, and tapping those buttons is far more responsive than gestures on high-end browsers. I’m willing to give up 8 pixels of vertical space for that. Read more

Benchmarking Android

After rooting a device and loading a ROM or two on it, it’s easy to start to wonder what tweaks and settings actually make a difference in performance or whether you’re just imagining things. For example, my devices all have the option to force Android to use the GPU for rendering (under Developer Options), but does it really help?

Benchmarks are a synthetic but objective way to measure the effect. I use Antutu. Read more

I have a new favorite Android ROM for the Nook Color: MROM

My Nook Color is my experimental Android rig. Since it’s aging fast, I don’t use it nearly as heavily as my other Android devices, so if I accidentally do something wrong, I can live without it much more easily than I can do without a phone or my nicer tablet.

So I tend to try a lot of different things on it, just because I can.

The newest ROM I’ve tried on it is called MROM, and I must say I am impressed. Read more

Unintentional showrooming

My mom asked me a few weeks ago to recommend a tablet or e-reader. She’s really only interested in reading, so that pretty much answered half the question. You can read on a tablet, of course, but when you sit down to read on one, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll end up doing more than just read a book. You’ll see that e-mail notification and you’ll check it, and next thing you know, you’re on to something else.

So… Kobo, Nook, or Kindle? For me, it was an easy decision. The Nook was the best hardware at the time, so I went with a Nook. Ve hev vays to get the books we want onto the hardware we want, but Mom doesn’t want that hassle. She just wants to be able to buy the books she wants and read them right away. Amazon’s done a hardware refresh, so their hardware is as good as any other at this point, if not a little better, and they have the largest library of books, so it was an easy decision. The newest Kindle Paper White it is.

So, the day after it came out, she went to the nearest Best Buy to buy it… and ended up ordering it from Amazon. That practice is called “showrooming,” and retailers hate it, but sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot. This was one of them. Read more

Smartphones and tablets… What’s the point?

A longtime reader who asked to be anonymous got his first tablet and smartphone a few weeks ago and was underwhelmed, to say the least. “What’s the point?” he asked me privately.

To be honest, I understand. I got my first tablet a couple of years ago–a Nook Color that I loaded Cyanogenmod on. And, to be honest, once the thrill of hacking an e-reader into a full-blown tablet with no restrictions on it wore off, I didn’t do a lot with it. When I thought of it, I would check the weather on it when I was getting ready in the morning, and maybe glance at my e-mail with it, but mostly it sat on my end table. I probably used it 15 minutes a week.

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