Posts filed under Gadgets


Filed in Gadgets, Health

Except in this case, it wouldn’t have helped. The manufacturer had expected the buyers to buy the complete kit, so that everything would work together.

About a week ago, I’d bought a Nike+ Sportband to help with my morning walks. While it won’t help me walk better or more often, it is a cool gadget that’s a few steps up from my previous pedometer and handphone.

The Sportband is one part of a two-piece kit that is worn on the wrist and has a detachable electronic counter (like a pendrive). The other part of the kit is a tiny sensor (Nazley describes it as the height of a stack of three 50 sen coins) which goes inside one of the shoes. After calibration, the sensor communicates information to the counter on the wrist (the most important being distance) which is unplugged after each workout and plugged into the computer to send the information to the Nike Running site where the user has previously set up an account.

There is actually a third part to the two-piece kit. Actually, it’s more like an accessory. It’s a pair of Nike+ shoes that has a slot in the inside sole of one of the shoes to place the sensor during workout.

Before buying, I’d checked with my cousin’s son who has been using the gadget for a while. He said the shoes were not compulsory, the sensor works fine with any workout shoes, just slip it inside one of the shoes. And that was where the problem laid.

Because Nike expected everyone to buy the special Nike+ shoes to complete the kit, they did not include information on how to place the sensor inside a regular pair of shoes. The first time I used the Sportband and sensor, it showed I’d walked a measly 0.34 km. I knew that was not right, as I’d previously mapped the route online and saw that it was 0.7km, which I walk 4 times. The second time was even worse – 0.02km!!

Had I purchased a faulty sensor?

So I went to the Nike forums and did a search. And found that I was not the only user with a “faulty” sensor. I found that it was not the sensor that was faulty. The problem was in the way the sensor is placed in the shoe.

Apparently, this was a problem Nike had not anticipated because someone from Nike participated in one of the discussions (yes, there was more than one discussion) at the Nike forums and helped to figure out what was wrong.

This is how the sensor should be placed in a non Nike+ shoe:
parallel to the road and face up, with the Nike Swoosh logo “facing the sky”

I’m guessing that this placement problem never came up with the proper Nike+ shoes. I’m guessing if a user had placed the sensor “upside down” in the slot, it would not have been a perfect fit, so the user would’ve simply taken it out and placed it correctly. After all, there are only two ways to place the sensor in the slot – the logo side facing upward or inside the slot.

So, after finding the solution on the Nike forums, I placed the sensor correctly this morning and recalibrated it with the recommended 0.4km walk. I then did my usual walk and was glad to see the distance toting up nicely as I walked. By the end of my walk, the distance shown was an encouraging 3.94km.

To stop the sensor from slipping and sliding inside the sock, I’d placed a bit of Blu Tack on the bottom of the sensor and stuck it to the top of my right foot before putting on the sock.

No more problems. Well, not exactly. I’d like to get a holder for the sensor. Nazley has a DIY holder, but I’m a lousy DIYer so I googled and found various products. All well and good, except they’re not available in Malaysia. I know, because I’d gone into four sports shops (including Nike Women) at a shopping mall to ask, and all I got in return were funny stares like I’m not from this planet.

Now I need to figure out how to get one from the States.

Remembering Long Black

Filed in Gadgets, Memories

“Remember you used to go to Long Black all the time?” deesee asked the other evening when three of us met up for a “beamfest”.

Yes, I remember, and yes, I used to go to Long Black all the time. It was a cafe in SS2 – well, not just a cafe, but a cafe offering free wi-fi to customers. It also offered awesome all-day breakfasts. What more could a “young” wi-fi “warrior” ask for.

Those were the days. Actually not so long ago, maybe just 5 or 6 years back. But Long Black wasn’t open for long, altho I don’t think it was closed out by other wi-fi competition. When it closed, wi-fi was still quite a novelty, not commonly available like how it is now.

I have such fond memories of Long Black. I didn’t even have a laptop then, only a 16MB AlphaSmart Dana wireless, the reason for my being in Long Black a lot. Especially during November, the glorious NaNo month, I would be there, writing away, and then going online to update my word count. Ha! Those were the days.

These days, you can find wi-fi anywhere in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Most shopping malls offer free wi-fi, and those that don’t, there’s always a Mcdonald’s or Starbucks, even an Old Town White Coffee shop where you can fire up your netbook or notebook and go online. Most times, you don’t even have to ask for the password to get on.

Ah, those were the days. And here’s a picture of my Dana on the table at Long Black. Trust me, it is Long Black, even tho’ the picture is too close-up to see the rest of the place.

Oh, that “beamfest”? That’s another relic from the not-too-distant past, when PDA (mostly Palm PDA) owners used to meet up to beam apps to one another’s PDA. This recent one was attended by just three – deesee, tehoais and me – altho’ there were no Palm PDAs in sight and we weren’t beaming anything between us.

“The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age”

Filed in Gadgets, Reading

I found this article through Richard’s Notes, which I found very interesting as the topic is one that is very close to my heart.

The article is long – and at times, winding – and I have to confess to not having read every word of it. But what I got out it, helped me to know I am not alone in reading ebooks.

First off the bat, John Siracusa gives quite a bit of space to one of the pioneers of the ebook business – Peanut Press – and its evolution through various owners, including Palm Digital Media which employed him in 2002 to develop their web store. Peanut Press – which went on to become PalmReader and eReader, a name it still uses today – was the first ebook company I bought from, and which I still buy my ebooks from until today. So it was nice to read about the company’s history, so to speak.

Siracusa also discusses the “baggage” carried by ebooks as the electronic cousin of the printed book – the word “ebook” is actually meant to refer to the content, while the print version, “book”, refers to both the content and the medium. This print version definition, however, has carried over to the electronic version so that “ebook” has come to mean both content and medium.

I can understand this confusion. When I was writing an article about ebooks for Quill, a local magazine produced by MPH Publishers, I ran into a similar confusion trying to describe a physical ebook reader and ebook reading software, which would also be called ebook readers (but of the virtual variety).

It’s partly due to this confused expectation of an ebook as a medium that many book lovers have rejected ebooks – because ebooks don’t have the same touch and smell as a “real” book. To overcome this rejection, manufacturers of ebook reading hardware have tried to come out with ebook readers that look like “real” books and even allow pages to be flipped, but only in a virtual sense.

The above is just my take on the general objection against ebooks as a medium, but Siracusa discusses it in more detail in the section called “The device” in his article.

Siracusa takes on another regular objection to reading ebooks – the quality of the screen. Some of the objections he mentions include “I can’t read an entire novel off a screen!”, “I’ll stick to paper with its vastly superior contrast ratio” and “Eye strain! Eye strain!”

According to Siracusa:

With very few exceptions, all the unfavorable comparisons of bitmapped displays to print on paper are technically accurate. I’m here to tell you that they don’t matter.

The amount of time people in the industrialized world spend reading text off a screen has long since nullified this complaint. Literally billions of people have proven that they’re willing and able to read huge volumes of text off absolutely horrible screens. Think of text messaging on pagers and early cell phones, for example. Text messages are short, you say? I’m willing to bet that the average American will read substantially more text off his or her cell phone screen this year than from a book.

People are clearly willing to read text off screens. Plain, old, often awful screens with tiny, ugly text and large pixels. Vast amounts of text, read over extended periods of time. Up to 40 hours a week at work alone, in the case of most office workers who sit in front of a computer all day. And more at home for pleasure. Hell, you’re likely doing it right now (unless you printed the PDF version of this article or are being paid to read it).

I’ll say it again: people will read text off screens. The optical superiority of paper is still very real, but also irrelevant. The minimum quality threshold for extended reading was passed a long, long time ago.

Siracusa goes on to discuss digital rights management, and how Apple missed the opportunity to take over the ebook market. You can read all that in the actual article itself, but the other thing that was really interesting to me personally was his own reasons why he finds “reading off of this tiny PDA not just tolerable, but (apparently) satisfying enough to keep me from returning to paper books”:

Here’s what I came up with. First, I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been. (Incidentally, this also lead to a vast expansion of the definition of “an opportunity to read.”) Second, I could read in the dark next to my sleeping wife without disturbing her with bright lights and page-turning noises. (The tan-on-black reader color theme was affectionally known as “wife mode” at Peanut Press.) Third, I was loathe to give up the ability to tap any word I didn’t understand and get its dictionary definition.

I totally identify with his “I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book” reason. I carry my Palm TX with me whenever I’m out and about. I even have it in bed with me at night. And I don’t just use it for reading – okay, I’m digressing here a little – but also for games, music, and a notepad in place of real pen and paper.

I especially like the last two sentences in his article – an appeal to non ebook (human) readers out there:

… maybe you’ll never be satisfied by reading anything other than a paper book. All I ask is that you give it an honest try.

A little writing distraction

Filed in Gadgets

I can blame it on the Typewriter Brigade, but really, it’s just my own interest in retro gadgets, especially those to do with writing.

I brought out my Olympia portable typewriter just now and placed it on the breakfast counter. This is the machine I brought to England with me to type my class assignments.

I put in a sheet of recycled paper, aligned it, and pressed the letter “t”. Nothing appeared on the paper. I pressed harder. Still nothing. Actually, “pressed” is the wrong word, “tapped” doesn’t quite describe the action either; the best word is “pounded”.

Finally, I figured out why nothing was appearing on the paper. The typewriter ribbon had dried out.

I wasn’t too sad to put the typewriter away. I’m sure I can find a new typewriter ribbon, but I’m not sure I have the strength to pound enough combinations of keys to type up a page. Besides, my apartment doesn’t have space to accommodate a manual typewriter – it requires twice the width of the physical machine for the carriage to move for the words to be typed across the page.

Strange, but I can use a manual notebook, but I can’t use a manual typewriter.

To console myself, I registered for a software that I tested recently. It will let me feel I’m using a manual typewriter, but without having to hurt my fingers or find physical space for it in my little apartment. It’s a retro word processor and it’s called Visual Typewriter.

In a way, it’s the best of old and new.

Yes, I should be writing instead of checking out writing tools.

Travels with my eee

Filed in Gadgets, Stress Busters

I’m currently in Bifengxia Panda Base in Ya’an, China. I was originally supposed to go to Wolong and had in fact purchased my air ticket a few days before the earthquake on 12 May. After the earthquake, I kept hoping things were really not so bad in Wolong and it would re-open close to the time of my trip. But when it was confirmed Wolong would not be re-opened to the public any time soon, the volunteer programme was transferred to Bifengxia Panda Base, and I followed suit.

Bifengxia was set up in December 2003 as an alternate to Wolong, to house some of the pandas (mostly the older ones and the females not in the breeding programme for a particular year). It was part of a “disaster management programme” to house the Wolong pandas in two places in case anything should happen. And something did – something BIG – the earthquake on 12 May 2008.

While some of the pandas have been relocated to zoos in other parts of China, and seven remain in Wolong, the majority of the Wolong pandas are now living in Bifengxia, including 4 of the cubs born in 2006. Eight of the other 16 are in Beijing Zoo, including my Feng Yi, and three are in Yunnan.

What? Oh, this post is called “Travels with my eee”.

eee is the ASUS eeePC 900 that I’d bought in early July. I’d actually bought it for this trip. I’m typing this post on the eee. It’s great! Very light, gives me about 3.3 hours with the wireless turned on. And it’s drawn a LOT of admiring looks and questions from the staff at Bifengxia. Even the director, Mr Zhang Hemin, who was in the Base on the first day I was here, came over for a look and asked some questions.

The eee is now running on the original Linux OS. I had a lot of problems with the XP installation – lots of blue screens, followed by lots of recovery back to the Linux OS. Eventually, I decided to stick with the Linux OS, only to find that the 16GB hard drive partition had disappeared! But thanks to a very hardworking tech support, I got the missing partition back. Apparently, the disappearance was due to the way the two OSs format hard disks – in a word, differently.

Now, back to my trip.

I’m in Bifengxia for 11 days, helping out in different areas. So far, my work has included helping to edit some of their English materials translated from Chinese. I will also be helping the keepers to clean panda enclosures, move bamboo around, and scoop panda poop, too.

This morning, I was working in the Volunteers Office located in the same building as the nursery and enclosures for the 4 cubs from the 2006 batch and 2 older pandas. Each time I heard a panda bleat, I would look up and walk out to look in on them. This is panda heaven for me!

Oh okay, this has been a post about pandas, too. Pandas and the eee.