Saturday, 29 November 2014

Amazon's Kindle Fire

I have a Kindle Fire HD - it was a gift from someone, since normally I wouldn't be keen to support Amazon. The Kindle Fire mostly works well as a simplified tablet but with irritations, including:
  • Regularly refilling the carousel with music I had deleted.
  • You can't get rid of nagging "Customers Also Bought..." icons.
I don't care what they bought!
  • You can't put a lockscreen image of your choosing up, such as one with a visible contact number if lost.
  • It has a cluttered top menu with options trying to sell you things which you can't get rid of even though you don't use them such as Audiobooks, Newsstand, Videos, Shop.
  • Some clunkiness - I made new documents in a word processing package and the Kindle could see them and open them, but they didn't show up when I connected the Kindle to my PC - it turned out I had to reset the Kindle before they showed up.
  • Kindle Automatic Updates doesn't work. I updated my books many times. The Kindle never downloads the new versions unless I speak to Amazon directly and ask them to send the update! Also, to get the new covers to show, I had to de-register then re-register the device. Kindle purchasers would assume that if updates to Kindle books are made available then the updated version will appear on their device, but Amazon doesn't use that sensible approach. Instead the publisher has to contact Amazon and tell them, provide evidence, wait weeks, and maybe Amazon will make the option of an update available. It's a far cry from having the latest version always there, and depends on both the publisher and Kindle-owner going out of their way.
  • I remove docs (pdfs) from the device after I have read them, using the hold>menu option, but when I look at the Kindle's storage space directly by connecting it to my PC the documents are often still there, invisible to the Kindle but taking up loads of space (with altered filenames). I have to delete them a second time manually. The Kindle seems to duplicate and rename pdfs, and only delete the originals through the OS shell options.
What you see on the Kindle - a Docs folder with only one item,
which I then removed from the device

What I see in Windows Explorer: 44 files taking up space, 

all of which had supposedly been removed from the device 

via the Remove From Device option in the Kindle's interface
How they look on my PC

How the same email looks on my Kindle
  • Some issues specifically about the keyboard and typing:
  • I think I have turned off all the autocorrect options but it still manages to make typing a pain e.g. as I type each word it underlines it - if you tap anywhere else on the screen before pressing space, the whole word disappears.
  • It's slow. I press delete a few times, start typing replacement letters - it didn't record all the keypresses, only deleted a few letters, started the new ones, and now the word needs fixing again. Sometimes you have to just type very slowly, which makes typing a pain - no good for long messages, or drafting a story. I think the unremovable autocorrect is partly at fault - every tiem you add or delete a letter ti is checking its dictionary to see what words to "offer", slowing ti down even if you don't use that feature.
  • Words are underlined in red if kindle doesn't know them, which is distracting.
  • I type in landscape view for bigger keys, but it still wastes a line displaying words you might want, leaving an unnecessarily narrow window.
  • There is no easy way to move the selection cursor. I end up tapping loads of times trying to get the pixel-perfect placement (especially between narrow letters like i's or l's), which takes ages because a fingertip is bigger then the point you're trying to select. The answer would be to zoom in: but you can't zoom in on the text box on a Kindle. My phone has a button that acts like a mousepad, ideal for finetuning cursor positions, but the Kindle (and more recent smartphones) don't have an option like that.
  • When you switch to typing in numbers there is no option to add a full stop/decimal point. You have to jump back and forth between screens to do numbers with decimals, classmarks etc.
The number screen, lots of symbols, but no full stop

There are nice features too, such as the ability to email documents to a special address and they then appear on the Kindle (though copies are also stored on Amazon's servers by default: a setting I recommend changing).

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Monday, 24 November 2014

The Doom Wars


What are the key personality traits of writers?

I recently read a post on Rock Paper Shotgun about key gaming moments. It got me thinking, and I wrote this:

One of my key gaming memories was "Ending the Doom Wars". Nowadays I have 101 FPS games to play. Back then, an undergraduate at university with my first PC (I had to work full time at Asda for a week, sometimes 12-hour days, to get the money for my 486DX to replace my beloved Amiga 1200) I had one, and it was called Doom. I had played the free shareware episode again and again. Then a university lecturer lent me the CD with the full game on so I could install it, and I began to play in earnest. The rules I set for myself were originally that I had to play on the Ultraviolence difficulty level (the hardest one before respawning enemies appeared) and I was not allowed to reload a game if I died. Instead I pressed spacebar to respawn with just a pistol. No level in Doom was impossible - it just meant a different approach as you sneaked around, led monsters to fight each other, and gathered weapons all over again. In fact, that was often more fun than entering a level with a full loadout. It made it tense again. Scary, even. It meant your skills and knowledge of the level improved. And the feeling of satisfaction as you survived to hit the exit switch was all the better.

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Lykke Li

At the weekend I went to Manchester to see Lykke Li perform at the Albert Hall. She's a very exciting, super-talented Swedish woman who writes songs, sings, and performs, but is hands-on as a creator and re-creator in other areas. Her videos are striking, she's been in films, and she is happy to reinterpret her previous work (the versions of songs performed at the concert were often subtly changed from the album versions).

If you've never heard of her, here are some of my favourite songs and videos: the funky Get Some; her new Gunshot; the mesmerising Sadness Is A Blessing; and I Follow Rivers.

This concert was at the Albert Hall. I'd never been before, it's a cool venue, with its stained glass windows and cavernous interior. I chose to be stood in front of the stage rather than sitting on the balcony and being restrained. Eliot Sumner was the support. I’d not come across her before but she came on and owned the stage with her big bass and punky attitude, singing catchy and energetic songs with such gusto it was a really great surprise bonus to see her too.

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Friday, 7 November 2014