Thursday, 7 June 2012

08:00 – The Roku box lost its mind again yesterday evening. It decided that it couldn’t connect to our WiFi AP. At that point, the only solution is to repeatedly attempt to connect. That may require anything from several attempts to scores of attempts, which means an hour or more of sitting there clicking the button on the remote and watching the same configuration screens over and over again. It’s absolutely hateful. Roku’s firmware is the absolute pits, and their so-called “support” is entirely useless. The product is defective by design. When it works, it works well, but when it doesn’t work it’s an exercise in frustration to get it working again.

And it lies. When it was claiming not to be able to find a wireless AP, I went in and checked the configuration screen on our wireless AP. It indicated that the Roku box was connected via 11.g at 54 Mbps and 100% signal strength. Although it’ll be a pain in the ass, I finally decided to bite the bullet and do a UTP run between my office and the back of the TV in the den. Presumably, even the Roku box will connect if it has a hardwired network connection.

I’m still designing labels for the chemicals and specimens in the forensics kit. There are a lot of them. I still haven’t costed out the kit, but I suspect the full kit may have to sell for $240 or more. Many of the items are needed for only one lab session, and several lab sessions require multiple unique items, so we may end up offering two kits; a full version and a less expensive subset.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

08:16 – The taxes are in the mail. Another year until I have to worry about that again.

The US DoJ has finally filed suit against Apple and two of the major ebook publishers. (The others had already settled.) The DoJ claims that the price-fixing by Apple and the major publishers cost consumers about $100 million in the last couple of years by pricing books $2 to $5 higher than they would have been in a competitive market. If anything, that’s probably an underestimate. Assuming that the DoJ wins, the effect on the price of indie books will be nil, and that of books from major publishers somewhat greater. Ultimately, getting rid of Apple’s “agency model” will result in lower prices overall for consumers, with essentially all of that cost reduction coming directly from the major publishers’ revenues.

As things stand now, an indie publisher prices his book at, say, $2.99. Amazon pays the indie publisher 70% of that list price, less a small charge for data transfer. For the average $2.99 book, the indie publisher is paid about $2.04 by Amazon. If the DoJ wins, the indie publisher will no longer set the selling price at $2.99. Instead, he’ll set the price to Amazon at $2.04, and Amazon will decide how much to sell the book for. Probably $2.99. So, no change there.

For books from major publishers, everything will change. As things are now under the agency model, a publisher may set the list price of one of its books at, say, $13.99. When Amazon sells a copy of that book for $13.99, it pays the publisher 35% of retail, or $4.90. (Amazon pays the 70% royalty only on books priced from $2.99 to $9.99; those priced at less than $2.99 or more than $9.99 earn only 35% royalties.) When the agency model goes away, that publisher is no longer able to set the selling price. All it can set is the wholesale price it charges Amazon for a copy. Major publishers, of course, will want to boost the wholesale price from $4.90 up into the $10 range, but that’s not going to fly. In fact, it’s quite possible that the terms of the settlement will forbid publishers from boosting prices significantly. So, if Amazon is still getting that book for the effective wholesale price of $4.90, it’s not going to price that book at $13.99. Instead, it’s more likely to price the book at maybe $6.99. That in turn puts the screws to the major publishers, who were using the $13.99 price as an umbrella to maintain high hardback prices. Not many people are going to pay Amazon’s discounted price of $20 for the hardback if they can get the ebook for $7. Hardback sales, which are what earn major publishers most or all of their profits, are going to tank even worse than they already have. And more and more traditionally-publisher authors, as they watch hardback advances and royalties continue to plummet, are going to start going the indie publishing route. Traditional publishing is already in a death spiral, and this will simply be the final nail in the coffin.

13:08 – About three weeks ago, I mentioned that I was considering replacing our Time-Warner VoIP phone service. A couple of people mentioned MagicJack. I was familiar with the name from a few years ago when I’d signed up for PhonePower VoIP service. I had an impression that I’d decided back then for good reasons that I wouldn’t consider MagicJack. So I decided to look into MagicJack again.

What I found out wasn’t good. First, the web site is incredibly tacky. Nowhere on it could I find anything about terms of service, and I looked. Nor does MagicJack offer telephone support of any kind. All you can do is contact their chat line. Which is probably fortunate, because what I read about MagicJack’s so-called support is that, incredibly, it’s actually worse than Roku’s support. Although some have found the equipment to be reliable, reports of “it just stopped working” are distressingly common. There are also numerous reports of what amounts to fraud, with MagicJack charging people’s credit cards well before the “free trial” expires, sometimes within a couple days of when they sign up. Finally, the BBB gave MagicJack an F rating, which is actually worse than Greece’s credit rating. I don’t even like to deal with companies that have B ratings, let alone an F.

Other than the fact that TWC phone service is outrageously priced, there’s no urgency. I’ll probably take my time and choose an independent VoIP company like PhonePower. It may be even be PhonePower. I suspect a lot of the problems that I had with PhonePower may have resulted from running the TA behind our router. If I do this again, I’ll stick an Ethernet hub/switch between the cable modem and the router and connect both the TA and the router to that hub/switch. I had the TA port on the router assigned to what D-Link calls the “DMZ”, which in theory is supposed to be the same as having the device in front of the router. In practice, I’m not so sure that’s the case.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

09:01 – Okay, this is really strange. When we did the first draft of the forensics lab book a few years ago, we recommended one of those small portable BLB fluorescent tube UV light sources. Since then, technology has moved on, and UV LED flashlights have become commonplace and inexpensive.

So, on March 23rd, I ordered this 9 LED 400 nM UV Ultra Violet Blacklight Flashlight 3AAA, 7301UV400 from an Amazon Marketplace vendor, for $3.59 with free shipping. (The price has since increased to $3.79.) I wasn’t expecting much, especially with shipping included in the $3.59. On the other hand, I think I mentioned that a couple of years ago I bought a package of 10 six-LED white flashlights at Lowes or Home Depot for $9.99. A buck each, including the AAA batteries, albeit cheap zinc-carbon ones.

When I got the confirming email from Amazon, I was surprised to see that it showed the expected arrival date as “Wednesday April 18, 2012 – Friday May 4, 2012”. I figured they must be back-ordered, but I really wasn’t in any hurry. Then, three days later on March 26th, I got email from Amazon saying that the product had shipped, but that the expected arrival date was still April 18th through May 4th. I wondered how it was possible to ship something on March 26th that would take three to five weeks or more to arrive. Slow boat from China?

Well, yes, as it turned out. Or at least a slow plane from China. The flashlight arrived yesterday, with a Par Avion label and customs sticker. It was shipped from Hong Kong. How in the hell can you ship anything from Hong Kong for $3.59 and not lose money on the deal?

The flashlight itself is of surprisingly good quality, at least on superficial examination. I was expecting plastic construction, but it’s made of machined metal, apparently aluminum. The switch is in the base, and seems solid. And the nine UV LEDs put out a lot of light. I suspect the 400 nM label is accurate, because the output is right on the edge between visible deep violet and invisible long wavelength UV. In the dark, ordinary white objects are lit in deep purple and fluorescent objects, including most white paper, fluoresce brilliantly. I suspect this unit would quite useful for scorpion hunting, as well as all the other things a UV light source is usually used for. For $3.59, I’m happy with it.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

08:50 – I finished the QC2 review on the biology book and sent off my comments to the production editor. We’re finished with this book. It goes to the printer on 3 April. Barbara and I are doing final preparation on the biology kits this weekend, and will start assembling finished kits next weekend. And I just got email from my editor yesterday asking about image(s) for the cover of the forensics book, which they’re fast-tracking.

My new cell phone showed up yesterday. I put it on the charger, but I haven’t yet activated it. It’s a cute little clamshell unit. It reminds me of my first cell phone more than 20 years ago, a Motorola clamshell model, although of course the new one is a lot smaller.

I have about had it with DreamHost, which had yet another major outage yesterday. Their promise of 99.9% uptime has become a sick joke. This is about the fourth major outage so far this year. As always, they claim that only one small datacenter was affected and that only a small percentage of their customers were affected. By some coincidence, every time they have have an outage, I’m one of that small percentage of affected customers, as is everyone else I know who uses Dream Host. The major outages would be bad enough, but even when their service is working it’s often so slow as to be almost unusable. My annual renewal is coming up soon, and I think I’m going to move to another hosting company, probably

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

08:46 – The Roku box is great when it’s working, but a royal pain in the petunia when it’s not. Around 6:30 yesterday evening, we had a short power outage that was long enough to cause the Roku to reboot. It took me more than an hour and probably 50 attempts before I could get it to reconnect. About half the time, it would pass the first of three steps in reconnecting, “Connect to wireless network”. About a tenth of the time, it would also pass the second step, “Connect to local network”. But it took 50+ tries before it would pass the final step, “Connect to the Internet”. What was particularly aggravating was that I was watching the AP router status screen, which told me that the Roku box was connected to the wireless network 100% of the time, with a very strong signal and at a high data rate.

I would have called Roku tech support, but I learned that lesson the day the Roku arrived, when I had similar problems getting it to connect (the dreaded 014 error). Never, ever call Roku tech support. Roku has the worst tech support of any company I’ve ever contacted, bar none. Their tech support reps are apparently in China, and do not speak understandable English. They work from a script, and their solution is always to demand that you reconfigure your entire network, despite the fact that the network is demonstrably working fine and that the problem is solely the Roku box.

If I ever need to replace this Roku box, it certainly won’t be with another Roku product. Roku sucks.

O’Reilly sent me the draft of the bio book index yesterday. In all the books we’ve done for O’Reilly, I don’t think I’ve ever made even one change to a draft index. For some reason, it just flummoxes me. They want suggestions about adding things that are missing. I can never think of any. They also want suggestions about things that are in there but shouldn’t be. I can never think of any. So I just emailed my editor this morning to say that I couldn’t find anything that needed to be changed.

Right now, I’m working on two web pages. The first is the “landing page” for the biology book. The second is the main page for the BK01 biology kit. Both of those pages need to be tested, up, and working by the time the biology book hits the stores a month from now. Which means I really need to get the biology kits costed out, so we know what to charge for them.

I talked to Barbara the other day about dropping our cable TV and VoIP service from Time-Warner, keeping only Roadrunner. The cable TV service is basic tier, which is essentially just the OTA channels. About the only use we have for them is when Barbara watches sports on weekends. We could get those for free with an antenna, and probably get a better picture. As to VoIP phone service, we’re paying something like $45/month for it, and probably use it an average of less than 10 minutes per day. Although it’s more common among young people, we have several friends who’ve already dropped their landline phone service and gone 100% cell. Given our very light usage, I thought prepaid cell phones would actually be cheaper. Assuming 300 minutes per month between us, which is probably high, prepaid cell airtime at $0.10 per minute would run us only $30, and we’d have the other advantages of cell phones, including each of us having a personal number and not missing any calls.

Barbara’s current cell phone is a Boost Mobile, for which she pays $0.10/minute, so I visited the Boost Mobile site yesterday, intending to order a second phone for myself. I found that, although Barbara is grandfathered in at $0.10/minute, the current prepaid plan is $0.20/minute. So I went off looking for alternatives and found They get good reviews, we’re in a service area with a strong signal, and their prepaid service is only $0.05/minute. So I just ordered one of their phones for myself. If I like it, I may order another one for Barbara.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

07:20 – UPS showed up yesterday with a whole bunch of bottles and lids. I shoved them into the spare room that used to be full of computer gear until I have time to move them downstairs.

When we ordered the Pentax K-r DSLR, I was hoping that the Live View feature would make it easier to shoot images through the microscope, and indeed it has. Here’s Aspergillus sp. at 100X showing conidia and spores.

It’s still difficult to achieve proper focus, but much less so than it was without Live View. Without Live View, I often had to shoot literally 30 or 40 images of the same view to get one in reasonably good focus. It’s near impossible to focus on an SLR focusing screen when viewing through a microscope. With Live View, I can generally get a pretty well-focused image by shooting three or four images and tweaking the focus slightly each time.

Of course, the real problem is that for most subjects there’s really no such thing as proper focus, because those subjects are actually three-dimensional. Although many appear to be two-dimensional, most of them actually have depth. It’s often a matter of 100 micrometers or less, but that still means that when one part of the object is in focus, others aren’t, particularly at higher magnifications. Even in this image, which is a thin section at only 100X, some of those tiny little spores are sharply focused and others aren’t. That’s because some of them lie above the plane of focus, and others below.

I’ve often wondered if I should use stacking software designed for astrophotography to shoot composite photomicrographs with everything is in focus. The problem in astrophotography isn’t focus–everything is at infinity–but turbulence in the atmosphere, which changes constantly and blurs parts or all of the object. With stacking software, you shoot many images–hundreds to thousands–and then process them with the stacking software. It finds the non-blurred parts, if any, of each individual image and then combines those into one composite image. Processing an image is, of course, resource intensive, both in terms of disk and CPU. Even a fast PC may need several minutes to many hours to complete the stacking process, depending on image resolution and the number of frames in the sample.

Of course, I wouldn’t shoot dozens to hundreds of photomicrographs separately. Instead, I’d focus the microscope as well as I could and then adjust focus one direction or the other until the image was clearly out of focus I’d then turn on the Pentax K-r video mode and capture 720p video for 30 seconds or a minute as I very slowly ran the focus in the other direction. It’d be an interesting experiment, but of course the results would be low-resolution (720p), probably not good enough for publication. Also, I just don’t have time to do this. Finally, using images that were in sharp focus across the entire field would raise unrealistic expectations among readers, i.e., “What’s wrong with my microscope?”

09:42 – Amazon says they sold four times as many Kindles on Black Friday this year as they did last year. Presumably the same held true yesterday for Cyber Monday. Of course, a lot of those Kindles are Kindle Fires, which I suspect most buyers intend to use primarily as tablets rather than e-readers. Reading ebooks on a backlit display is a miserable experience, as anyone who’s used both backlit LCD and e-Ink readers can tell you. So the reality is that e-reader sales have perhaps only doubled year-on-year, if you consider e-readers to include only devices that people actually use primarily for reading.

Sales of e-readers last December were high enough to cause catastrophic sales declines for print books, particularly MMPBs, which fell about 50% year-on-year. Sales of e-readers this month should be sufficient to pretty much kill MMPB entirely, not to mention driving another nail in the coffin of trade paperbacks and hardbacks. For now, trad publishers are hanging on, although they’re doing so by raping customers with $10 and higher ebook prices and raping authors with 17.5% royalty rates. That won’t go on much longer, as more and more people, both readers and authors, come to understand that even $2.99 is a pretty high price for just a license to read a book, and as more and more titles become readily available on torrents. By this time next year, I suspect a lot of people will be trading multi-gigabyte ebook archives in the same way they started trading MP3 archives years ago.

10:49 – I just got email from a reader asking which Kindle I’d recommend, and why. There’s no single answer to that, so here goes:

If you’re a serious (heavy) reader of novels, no question, the baby Kindle 4 is the best pure ebook reader. At only $79 ($109 without ads), this should be a no-brainer for any serious reader. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than the other models, so nearly anyone can use it one-handed, and it just gets out of your way while you’re reading. If you take notes, play games, or otherwise use a keyboard or if you want to listen to audio books, this model is a bad choice, but otherwise go for it. The ads, incidentally, are not at all intrusive. You see them only on the screensaver and as a small pane at the bottom of the screen that lists your titles. As regular readers know, I hate and despise ads, and these don’t bother me even slightly.

If you’re a serious fiction reader who does need a keyboard or listens to audio books, go with the Kindle 3. It’s larger and heavier than the baby Kindle and some people will have trouble holding it securely with one hand, but otherwise it’s a match for the baby Kindle except that it has a physical keyboard and audio support.

If you’re looking for a cheap iPad and you intend to use it only casually for reading ebooks, go for the Kindle Fire. Just be aware that, although the Fire is probably about as good for reading ebooks as an iPad, in real terms that means it isn’t very good at all.

Finally, the bastard child, Kindle Touch. This might actually have been my first choice, if only Amazon had included physical page-turn buttons. They didn’t, which means to turn pages you have to move your finger and touch the screen, which really, really gets in the way of reading. Not to mention smearing up the screen. About the best I can say for the Kindle Touch is that its virtual keyboard, which is operated by touching the keys on-screen, is a lot better than the baby Kindle’s virtual keyboard, which requires moving the cursor around using the arrow keys on the controller button. Still, if you need a keyboard, in my opinion the original Kindle 3 (now the Kindle Keyboard), with its physical keyboard, is a much better choice.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

10:05 – Colin is really a Fearsome Predator now. This morning, he caught a chipmunk. Six times. The first time, the chipmunk froze. Colin pounced on it, and came up with it in his mouth. I shouted, “Drop it!” and he did, whereupon the chipmunk ran for its life. Colin gave it a headstart (seriously) and then overran it in about five steps, again coming up with it in his mouth. Again, he dropped it and it ran under a pile of leaves. He grabbed it again. This went on until he’d grabbed it six times. I’ve heard it said that Border Collies have had all the kill instinct bred out of them, and it’s obviously true. Despite the fact that he had it in his fangs repeatedly, he never bit down on it. The last time he dropped it, the chipmunk staggered away slowly and I dragged Colin away from it. I hope the chipmunk was just stunned rather than injured, but I’ll go out and look for it later.

Barbara is doing extremely well. This morning, she tried using my four-footed cane, which I need only for balance, particularly at night. I’ll borrow it back when I take Colin for a walk, but otherwise she’s welcome to use it. She’s still sleeping on the sofa, and will keep the walker frame for use at night if she needs to get up and also as a physical barrier to keep Colin from jumping up on her.

I just officially transferred my Kindle to Barbara. I connected it via USB and deleted dozens of titles I knew she wouldn’t want to read, but that still left her with 140 titles to sort through and decide whether or not she wants them. Most of those are free or $0.99 ebooks that I downloaded from Amazon because they sounded like something she might like. If she finds some authors/series that she enjoys we’ll buy the rest of the titles in that series, assuming they’re not outrageously priced.

Overall, I think the Kindle is nearly perfect. The exception is that its file management sucks dead lifeforms through a small tubular object. The fundamental problem is that Kindle uses a flat file structure unless you use its incredibly awkward organization tools. I should be able to create a directory structure on my hard drive and copy individual titles into that directory structure. If I then copy that directory structure to the Kindle, the directories should show up as top-level categories that contain the individual books. It doesn’t work that way. If, for example, I create a directory called “Downie, Ruth”, copy her four Medicus books into it, and then copy that directory to the Kindle, the four books show up as individual titles at the top level. In order to categorize them, I have to create a category named “Downie, Ruth” (or whatever) with the Kindle’s tiny little keyboard, go find each book, and manually transfer it to the new category. That takes lots of keystrokes and lots of time. It sucks. Nor is calibre any help. I can use it to organize the titles with no problem, but according to the calibre docs, Kindle makes no provision for transferring that organized structure via USB. The only consolation is that the Nook is just as suckful. Apparently, the only company that gets it is Sony, whose ebook readers support transferring organized structures. Still, I’ll never buy a Sony product, so there’s no use worrying about it.

Monday, 10 October 2011

09:04 – Barbara went to the hospital Thursday for knee-replacement surgery. Everything went extremely well. She was released yesterday and will now be recuperating at home for the next few weeks. Colin, of course, is delighted that she’s home. Few things worry a puppy more than having a litter mate disappear. He was obviously stressed the entire time she was gone. He had been just about perfect on house-training, but that suffered while she was gone. There was constant whining, yipping, and wandering around the house looking for her, and that was just me.

Barbara left the hospital with only two prescriptions, one for 10 syringes of an injectable anticoagulant and the other for a hundred 5 mg oxycodone tablets. She insisted on stopping at Walgreens on the way home to get the prescriptions filled, so I handed them to the pharmacist and waited while she filled them. I was quite disturbed at what happened. When she’d finished making up the prescriptions, she told me that they had only two of the anticoagulant injectors in stock and that I’d have to stop by Tuesday to pick up the other two. The other two? I was expecting eight more. I figured maybe the injectors were multi-dose, but when I got back out to the car I asked Barbara and we checked the paperwork they’d given her. Sure enough, we were supposed to get ten syringes. So I went back in and waited another five or ten minutes to talk to the pharmacist. When I mentioned the problem, she treated it very casually, saying that indeed I was supposed to get eight more syringes on Tuesday and that she’d been confused by the dosage of 0.4 mg into thinking I was to get a total of only four. Isn’t the first duty of a pharmacist not to make such mistakes in dispensing medication? In this case, we caught the mistake, but we shouldn’t have had to. I’m still thinking about whether to report this to Walgreens. She seemed like a nice young woman, but mistakes like this could have fatal consequences.

10:18 – This is cool. My old friend John Mikol just emailed me:

Leo Laporte was plugging your chemistry set and book, I hope it sends some sales your way.

It’s about 32 minutes in:

13:24 – Incidentally, I just realized I hadn’t commented yet on using the Baby Kindle 4. Side-by-side with my Kindle 3, the Baby Kindle 4 is noticeably smaller and lighter. Not that the Kindle 3 is particularly large or heavy, but the Baby Kindle 4 is enough smaller that it’s much easier for me to grip securely. With the Kindle 3, I was always afraid that I’d drop it if Colin nudged my arm or something. I can grip the Kindle 4 securely. And it’s still running on its original charge, despite the fact that its battery is half the capacity of the Kindle 3’s and I used it fairly heavily while Barbara was in the hospital. Overall, I’m very pleased with the Baby Kindle 4 and happy that I chose it rather than the touch model. Even the ads aren’t intrusive, although I understand there’s now an option to remove them by paying Amazon another $30.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

09:37 – Our friends Mary and Paul dropped by for a visit yesterday evening. I asked them if they were attending the sunrise service this morning. They both use iPhones and iPods, you see, and this morning is the third day. Steve is risen.

Paul has drunk the Kool-Aid more than Mary, I think. He commented that he liked his iPhone, but he really liked his iPod. Where else, he asked, could one get a pocket-size music player? Barbara and I pointed out that she had one connected to her car audio system right now, a Sansa model. Yes, he said, but where can you get music to load on it? Barbara pointed out that she had several thousand tracks converted to MP3 that she’d ripped from her CDs, about a thousand of which were on her Sansa player at the moment. I added that if he wanted to buy music on-line he could visit Amazon, which has a huge selection with often better prices, and has never had copy protection.

I really don’t understand all the eulogizing. Not only did Jobs never do anything to help the advance of personal technology; much of what he did hurt it. He went from selling overpriced, underpowered PCs to selling overpriced music players and tracks to selling overpriced cellphones. Everything he ever did was aimed at pillaging his customers’ wallets and locking them into his “walled garden”. And, no, I haven’t forgotten the Apple ][, which deserves at best an asterisk in PC history.

Laundry this morning, with work interspersed on the biology lab book. Right now, I’m working on the chapter on cells and unicellular organisms. I’m just starting a session on making culturing media and filling Petri dishes and slant tubes with agar gel medium and test tubes with broth medium. We’ll use the Petri dishes in the following session to culture bacteria, after which we’ll isolate selected species and grow pure cultures of them in slant tubes and eventually broth tubes. We’ll then flood Petri dishes with broth culture to grow bacterial “lawns”, which can then be used for antibiotic sensitivity testing.

I’ve thought seriously about recommending that readers avoid culturing environmental bacteria and instead purchase pure cultures of known-harmless bacteria from Carolina Biological Supply or wherever. The issue is that there are a lot of pathogenic bacteria floating around in the wild. Ordinarily, they’re harmless, because our bodies defenses can deal with small numbers of them. But culturing them produces large numbers of them, so one must take care to avoid being exposed to them. With proper technique, the danger is nearly non-existent, but some danger does still exist. We’ll minimize that by using a simple beef or chicken broth and sucrose nutrient mixture and culturing at room temperature rather than body temperature. Those factors favor growth of bacteria that prefer the lower temperature, which is to say not most pathogens.

Of course, we’ll subsequently be using forced selection to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria from those original cultures, and if you don’t want wild pathogens floating around the room, you really don’t want drug-resistant wild pathogens floating free. Of course, we could temper that risk by using antibiotics that are not usually used in humans, such as neomycin, sulfadimethoxine, and so on. We can also take steps to minimize exposure risk, including wearing an N100 mask, misting the area with Lysol spray and so on. On balance, I think I’ll do the lab with environmental bacteria, but warn readers that for complete safety they should purchase a known-harmless culture as their starting point.

Colin is still very much a puppy. Barbara had dinner out yesterday, so I made myself a bowl of tuna shock. Except that I didn’t have any tuna or any shock, so I just put a can of olives (less the can and lid) and a can of Costco chicken chunks (less the can and lid) in a big bowl and then added a large glop of mayonnaise. I’d eaten about a third of it when the doorbell rang. I got up to answer it, first warning Colin not to touch my food. When I got back a moment later, he had his snout in my bowl. Fortunately, he hadn’t eaten much of it, so I finished the rest.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

08:47 – I happened across this article, Best paid jobs: A guide to UK salaries, and was surprised both by how little UK employees earn and how small the spread between best- and worst-paid jobs. The top-paid job, for example, is “Directors and chief executives of major organisations” at £96,202 (about $146,000/year). That’s a small fraction–10% to 1% or less–of what similar jobs pay in the US. Physicians, corporate managers, and senior officials make about £70,000/year, senior police officers (inspectors and above) make about £55,000/year (is an inspector really considered senior?), and a few other jobs pay £50,000 or more. After that, it starts decreasing rapidly. Nurses, at position #149 of the 402 jobs listed, make only about £26,000/year.

Of course, it’s not just how much you earn. Tax rates and other cost-of-living issues determine how much that salary buys. And in that respect the UK suffers greatly in comparison to the US. Tax rates are very high, and everything costs much more than it does in the US. Twenty years ago, one of our friends who’d moved here from the UK had her family over for a visit. I had a chance to talk for some time with her brother-in-law, Gavin. This was his first trip to the US, and he couldn’t believe the prices here.

At the time, the £:$ exchange rate was about $2/£, and he was stunned to find that everything cost the same (or less) in dollars here as it cost in pounds in England. “Everything?”, I asked him. “Everything!”, he replied. “That car that costs $20,000 here would be £20,000 at home. We just paid about $70 for children’s clothing that would have been £70 or £80 in England. Last night, we had dinner with wine at a nice restaurant for $120. That would have been £120 or more in England.” And to make matters worse, he said, his salary in pounds was less than a third of what a comparable job paid here in dollars. Then we started to talk about things like property and income tax rates, housing costs, and so on. It may be no coincidence that soon after Gavin and Eileen returned to the UK he requested and was granted a transfer to one of his company’s facilities in Estonia.

16:17 – The postman just showed up with my Baby Kindle 4. I’ve set up WiFi access, and it’s charging right now. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than my Kindle 3, and of course lacks a physical keyboard. One thing did surprise me; the color appears to be white or off-white on the Amazon pages, but in real life it’s charcoal gray, much like the Kindle 3. Perhaps identical; I haven’t compared them yet because the K4 is in my office and the K3 is out in the den.

Once it finishes charging I’ll transfer some books to it. Ironically, despite Amazon’s claim that no computer is required, charging is only via USB unless you already have the AC->USB dongle or buy one separately. So, I suppose Amazon is entitled to make that claim, but only if they include a disclaimer “unless you ever want to charge the unit”.

The power switch gave me pause momentarily. Unlike the slide switch on the Kindle 3, this one is a push switch. I was trying to turn on the new Kindle without looking at the switch, and wondered why it refused to slide. I actually prefer the push switch.

The ads are not intrusive, particularly since I seldom keep the Kindle 3 in sleep mode and so never see the screensaver. Presumably the Kindle 4 works the same way–press the switch to put it to sleep; press and hold the switch to turn it off. The only other place the ads appear is at the bottom of the home page, where they occupy only a small fraction of the screen. I’ll probably actually look at the ads periodically. They’ve had stuff like a $20 Amazon coupon for $10 and so on.

The smaller battery is a minor concern. Amazon rates the Baby Kindle 4 at 30 days of battery life, but that assumes only 30 minutes of reading per day, or a total of 15 hours of reading. As always, it’s page turns that take power, and since I read something like six times faster than average, 30 minutes a day of reading for me is probably as many page turns as perhaps three hours of reading by an average reader. So, I’m expecting maybe five or six actual reading hours per charge, which means I’ll be recharging every two or three days on average days and probably once a day on heavier reading days.