IT

Favourite ebook apps

I like books, proper books. I really do. But they are heavy to carry when travelling, difficult to deal with when moving, take up lots of space etc. I’ve moved a lot, and thus lugged boxes and boxes of books from one country to another many times. Finally I gave most away to a library and now I mostly ready ebooks.

You can carry thousands and access any or all of them on a small device, read when you have a few minutes spare, such as when you ‘re waiting for something, and with the right apps create a summary of the important points of a book as a separate document. Later you can pick up reading the same book on another device just where you left off on the other device.

I hear the trend is back to real books and away from ebooks now. But the sales increase in the former and decrease in the latter is only minor.

Here I’m going to mention my favourite apps. I mostly read ePub or PDF books.

For cataloging the books: Calibre is great. It has so many functions that I don’t know, but it is easy to use for what I want. It’s free, too. You can buy an app for Android or iOS called Calibre Companion that allows you to access Calibre on your PC, browse and download books. Depending on how you set it up you can access your books from afar too, over the Internet.

For reading ePub books where you want to create a summary: Google Play Books: You upload the books you want to read, and highlight the passages of importance. A separate document of the highlights is created in Google Drive (which you need to have set up) and you can download that in Word format or others. You can upload and read PDF’s, but can’t highlight or summarise the books. GPB will also read you book aloud if you wish, and this works well, too. And can pick up reading the same book on another device just where you left off on the first device. On PC’s, Android and iOS.

For reading PDF format books and creating a summary: Xodo – Or even extracting entire pages into a new document you create. You can in a convoluted way set it up on multiple devices so your reading progress is updated on each device, but I haven’t succeeded. But otherwise a great free app / program for PC’s, Android and iOS.

For reading novels on Android in ePub format, where I don’t want to create any notes of the book: Pocketbook: A free app I use.  Also good for many other ebook formats. I can’t find a homepage, but there are plenty of download sites – or for Android in the Google Play apps.

A free Windows program for reading not only PDF’s but ePUB and some other formats. SumatraPDF.  I don’t usually read books on the PC, but I do read documents with it, or perhaps look through a book quickly.

Kindle: If I buy a Kindle book I often use this app to read it on a tablet or phone, or even a PC if it’s just a quick look. You can use it for reading PDF’s as well – not only for what you have bought from Amazon. I often convert the books to ePub, and then I can use Google Play Books. This you can do free online, or buy a program to do it from epubor. The Kindle app and program is free.

These are the main apps I use, in the order that I use them.

 

 

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Voting (for Bitdefender Total Security) with my wallet

My Kaspersky Total Internet Security expired while I was away. I’ve been using Kaspersky for 12 or more years, and have been very happy with it. I intended to continue to use it.

But while the rest if the world is globalising, making it easier to use products anywhere in the world, Kaspersky decides to regionalise.  Hollywood did this a couple of decades ago to extract more money from customers – instead people revolted and we got what they call piracy – people shared with others free, and Hollywood missed out on a lot of revenue.  Did other companies learn from this? Not Kaspersky.  So now I can’t buy Kaspersky anywhere and install it in Malaysia, but am restricted to purchasing in this market, increasing the price. Very dumb.

I researched alternatives and chose Bitdefender Total Security, which is installable anywhere.  So far it seems it’s very good, and even has ransomware protection.

Voting with your wallet and your feet are about the only effective votes you have.  I use them.

Huawei – what a disappointment – and take a book or a pillow if you go there

My Huawei tablet’s battery life had become poor after 16 months of use, so last week I went to their service centre on Burma Road, Pulau Tikus to ask about battery replacement and upgrading the tablet to Android 6, AKA Marshmallow.  The shop in Gurney Plaza promised me when I bought it an upgrade was coming – and that’s almost a year and a half ago.  In the interim I have asked a few times, and was told “soon”. The last time they said I should ask at the service centre.

After a half hour wait for two others to be served – I can’t tell why each customer takes half an hour to be served – they told me the price to replace the battery – RM157, and they told me that I couldn’t get an upgrade to Marshmallow myself but they could do it.  And they would do it for no extra charge when they replaced the battery.

They have signs everywhere saying to backup your data and that they’ll possibly use any data left on your device.  So I did a factory reset and scrubbed everything as I’d have to do a new setup for Marshmallow, anyway.

Mostly because a new battery and the almost two-year old Marshmallow would make my tablet sort of like a new device (for me), I took it along yesterday for the replacement and upgrade. Again I reminded them that they should be upgrading the operating system to Android 6, AKA Marshmallow. Of course, first was a 45 minute wait while they served two customers in front of me.

I returned to pick up the tablet at the promised time, and discovered that picking up has priority to dropping off, so I only had to wait until the customer being served was finished.

And on checking I discover my tablet is still Android 5.1.1,  dated Sunday Jan 17, 2016 CST (China Standard Time, I suppose).  Just the same as when I dropped it off. Now they tell me that is the latest version.  They insist it is. If you look on the web it is not, but perhaps for Malaysia it is.  So I have mentioned at every opportunity that I wanted Marshmallow, and they agreed each time.  And then I find out they have not done it.

I am disgusted. They know nothing. They don’t bother to find out anything. And they don’t care.  They certainly haven’t convinced me that it’s worth buying any more of their products.

So now I am stuck with setting the tablet up all over again just to get it back to how it was before – with no improvement.

I note you can install it yourself. Huawei has provided it Over The Air in some countries – since November 7th , 2016 in the US, for example – almost six months ago. You can download the file from the web.  I may well do that.  But for now I just have to get it set up all over again.

Phones and devices and their batteries

Apparently sales of tablets are now dropping. Even iPads. And apparently this is because the trend is to buy both bigger mobile phones, that can be used like a small tablet (phablet) as well as hybrid laptops that can function either as a laptop or a tablet. So both larger phones and hybrid laptops are selling well.

Having been using a laptop, tablet and mobile for several years, I had thought to continue this pattern. But my mobile’s battery now can last only a short time, being almost two years old, and my tablet, barely one year old, has a much shorter time between charges than when I first bought it. Plus, as often seems to happen, the headphone jack is worn out on my phone.

So, what to do about devices? Batteries are only good for a year, then passable for up to another year. An article I read the other day said that batteries only last for about 800 charges, or about two years. Headphone jacks wear out for me after a year and a half.

I know I could use Bluetooth thereafter, but I don’t want the radiation exposure.

Changing the battery or using a power pack isn’t the answer long term every time.  If batteries were removable like they used to be, that would be fine.  But now they are not, so you pay the manufacturer full retail price for a battery, then the same amount again to install the new one.  Before you could buy batteries discounted from eBay, so total cost was about one-third of now. So, non-removable batteries give more design freedom to manufacturers.  But they’ve made this into another profit feature for them.

Of course, for Samsung this backfired with their inflammable Note phone, as if batteries were replaceable, all they’d have to do is issue new batteries, instead of recalling and replacing all the phones.  It cost them much more, and was worse for their reputation. And there’d be less landfill if batteries were easily replaceable, as people would use their phones longer, or recycle them more.

Rather than have several devices, perhaps it’s better to minimise the number of devices and then change them as needed. So, to follow the trend mentioned above, and have a large phone and hybrid laptop.The PC is also used for reading in tablet format when at home, which is mostly, and the phone for reading when out. This would reduce the amount of time keeping them updated and maintained.

So have only two devices, and keep the PC for quite a long time, but change the other when the battery and / or the headphone jack is worn out.

As for now, while on my trip I retired the phone as its battery life was about 10 minutes, and swapped over to my tablet, which also has a SIM slot, so can function as a phone. I’ve installed the usual apps on it, put in a bigger SD card, and wondered if I should try and update to Marshmallow. I will use the tablet and maybe change the battery and continue with it until the battery life is again poor  or the headphone jack is worn out. Then I’ll follow the above trend if it still seems appropriate.

Hybrid PC’S are still rather pricey, though, so one has to shop around. And when you track down a good device it isn’t necessarily available in Malaysia.  The PC I would buy now is only available in Malaysia in a lower specification than available in the US, Singapore, Germany etc.  In those countries you can purchase the device with a more powerful processor, much more RAM, and better resolution screen. One shop tells me that some customers go abroad to buy for this reason.

I do read, however, that a couple of manufacturers may make phones with a fold out screen that makes them into tablets when you want the bigger screen size. And these could be out in a year or two.  And I’ve seen a screen on Kickstarter, I think, that mirrors your phone but is bigger and quite cheap, so you wouldn’t need a tablet anyway.

Will manufacturers learn from exploding batteries?

I, like many consumers, like to be able to put an SD card in my phone.  But many phones ceased providing them.  I had to buy a phone without a slot, and soon, just as I had imagined, I was out of space – so I didn’t keep it long.  One requirement of the subsequent phones I have bought is an SD card slot.

I, like many consumers, like replaceable batteries.  When the phone’s battery no longer lasts long enough, a quick purchase on eBay and the phone is like new.  Had Samsung a replaceable battery in its Note 7, instead of the debacle of replacing and scrapping the phone, they could have had a simple solution – replace the battery.  Will manufacturers learn from this? Not only give the consumers what they want, but cover their bases?  After a year and a half my phone battery lasting power is lamentable.  I must carry a power bank, too. Like I see many others doing.

I, like many consumers, like to get the latest Android version not too long after it is released.  My(Asus)  phone came with Android 5 – Lollipop – and more than a year after Android 6 – Marshmallow – was released I have yet to get it.  In fact, Android N is out now, so I am two versions behind. Marshmallow was finally released in September for my phone, and I downloaded it, but the phone won’t install it, so I have to wait for the over the air (OTA) release.  My Huawei tablet is the same, and still on Lollipop.  The closer to stock Android the software is, the easier and sooner the update can be provided.  Thus it is unlikely I will buy from the same manufacturers given their track record on this, although otherwise I am very happy with my choices.

I, like many consumers, don’t  like bloatware.  This also means it takes longer for manufacturers to update to the latest version of Android.

One thing Apple does is update all previous models of phones and devices of recent years.  But otherwise it leads the way in denying what the consumers want.  Now they’ve eliminated headphone jacks – something I use for hours a day.

I tend unsurprisingly to buy products that have the specs I want.  Motorola, which I had in the past, but had to replace soon due to its lacking an SD card slot, now looks pretty attractive again.  The SD slots are back, and some models are modular and can have parts added.  They also have almost stock Android, with no bloatware and just a few useful apps.

testing your actual internet speed

I have long suspected that Internet Service Providers give priority to pings  from apps or websites that check the speed of your Internet connection to fool you into thinking you have a faster connection.  The best I can get where I live is Telekom Malaysia’s 8 Mbps connection.  When I use a speed test it comes out from 2 to 6 download speed, with naturally a much slower upload speed.

But, for example, this morning my connection is really really slow.  Nevertheless, such a speed test gave the result of 4 Mbps download and 500 Kbps upload speed.  Which couldn’t be right.

Fast

Fast

Netflix has a new Android and Apple app for testing download speed called “Fast”. The app is free and you don’t need to be a subscriber.  Testing with this a few times showed download speeds ranging between 570 Kbps and 160 Kbps.  Which I would think is much more accurate.  Fast has sometimes over the months I have used it showed speeds of up to 4Mbps, showing I sometimes get somewhere approaching what I am paying for. But basically this connection is not so great.

The Internet speed I get from the mobile phone’s 4G connection is almost always much faster than the TM ADSL connection.

Explanation:

Pinging is sending a small information packet over the Internet and using the time it takes to return to estimate speed.
Kbps is Kilobits per second
Mbps is Megabits per second
Internet speed and network speed is measured in Kbps and Mbps
MB is Megabytes, and used for measuring data size, such as of a file, photo etc. A Megabyte is eight times the size of a Mb.

ramblings on IT

I started this a few days ago, and everything changes so fast in IT I’d better just post it.

Evernote changed their policy, telling us a couple of months ago that we could only have it now on two devices, or we would have to pay a monthly subscription. I find an app that I can use for notes, that syncs over all devices with the app useful, partly because I have an automatic backup, partly because the data is all in one place, partly because for a longer note I can type easily on a PC, but refer to it on another device like a phone, and that I can use it for anything – photos, voice etc., although 99% of it for me is text. So I found a program that would migrate it to Onenote, and while it imported everything it left it in a jumble that took a while to sort out.  But once I’d done that and I configured Onenote to suit me, and that was it. I did look at other apps, but Google Keep for some reason doesn’t sync all the time, and others didn’t seem to suit me so well.

This done, and it was actually reasonably painless, I uninstalled Evernote on all but two devices.  But I haven’t actually used it since at all.  Then today I receive an email from Evernote, who have probably noticed a dramatic fall in usage:

When we announced changes to Evernote Basic recently, many of our longtime customers had questions about the way devices are counted. We’d like to clarify some common misconceptions:
Access anywhere with Evernote WebEvernote Web does not count against the Basic device limits. If you’re near a computer with a web browser, you can get to your notes and notebooks.
Take it two at a time — Feel free to install Evernote on as many devices as you like. If you’re on a Basic account, you can log in from up to two devices at a time. Need to switch devices? Just log out from one and log in on the other.

Now, if they’d told us that in the first place I probably would have stuck with it.  But it’s too late now.

Onenote, being Microsoft, of course could change their policy in the future.  Earlier this year they reduced the free storage on Onedrive, from 15GB to 5GB.  If you requested in time you got to keep the 15GB, and I managed to do this.  I just found out in time when I noticed it in a PC magazine.  Who knows if I will catch such sudden policy changes in the future.

Starting soon Microsoft will offer Windows 10 Enterprise as a subscription service,  costing USD$7 per user per month.  28 months of subscription would be the equivalent of a permanent licence. Do they want to do this for consumers?  Almost certainly.  Will they?  We hope not, if it is forced upon us.  They say it’s the price of a cup of coffee and a donut.  Today so far I would have used probably at least 20 different programs, in the three hours or so I’ve been using my PC, tablet and phone. Well, if you add up all the (non-Microsoft) programs you use regularly, say 15 or 20 cups of coffee and donuts, soon we’re talking real money.   Mass migration of consumers to Linux Mint or Ubuntu, which would hurt Microsoft’s enterprise customers?  I should ensure my next computer has the specifications and components common enough to be able to run Linux.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update has been on my PC since Saturday. I did a blog on upgrading at the time.  It fixed a couple of problems I had that were Microsoft problems anyway – the start menu not working, and Onedrive not sync’ing, for example.  And it’s a bit faster – that will wear off in time.  Generally it works pretty much the same, and nothing different is that important to me.  I will have to go through the security settings again to make sure they haven’t been reset.

So I have been browsing PC magazines recently.  They are all enthused about IoT (Internet of Things).  I’m not.  I believe that electromagnetic radiation is bad for us, and we should limit our exposure.  We can withstand some without symptoms, just as we can air pollution, but we shouldn’t be increasing our dependence.  With IoT devices being largely wireless, I can’t see this as good.  There is a technology that uses the light spectrum for networking, and I believe this is harmless, but it relies on no barriers to work – it can’t go through walls and so on.  But IoT seems to be either WiFi or Bluetooth, with possibly ethernet in some cases, although I haven’t noticed it.  So now we have smart light bulbs that allow hackers into your home network – so IoT presents a security nightmare too.  All to do something I don’t really care about.  I can actually wait until I get home to turn on the aircon, or make coffee – I don’t need to have them start remotely so when I get home they are all ready for me.  Aircons have timers anyway – which I don’t really use.  Maybe there is some killer app which will make it all worthwhile.  Until then I will let it get cheaper and more reliable, and perhaps never get it at all.

For years I have had great hopes for fibre.  I read may years ago that all the knowledge of mankind, digitised, could go down a fibre optic cable in 3/4 second, or something like that.  About three years ago Telekom Malaysia dug up our street (and cut the electricity cable – hmm, no maps for utility lines?) and installed fibre.  Since then I regularly asked them when we can access it. They tell me, in six months time.  Like free beer tomorrow, tomorrow never comes.  A couple of weeks ago I asked again – ah yes, about six months.  Really, the future should be fibre to the premises everywhere, with low powered wireless connections, minimising radiation, covering the short remaining distance to the devices.  I turn wi-fi off at night, but I wish I could have it only on in bursts when needed.  If it could sense incoming data, then turn on and transmit it, and similar for outgoing data, and then go back to sleep.  Using the light band when possible… While my PC connects through ethernet, my phone or tablet can’t.

Bluetooth 5 will soon be out.  I hope it’s more reliable than Bluetooth 1 -4, which I only really got to work for connecting a keyboard to my phone or tablet, for headphones (before I figured this wasn’t good for my health), to speakers, and a couple of other things.

Passwords are being denigrated – we should apparently use biometrics.  Well, I am not keen. Once your finger print, iris print or whatever is compromised, it is compromised for life.  Once you use it, it’ll be uploaded anyway,  so you’ve lost control. Two factor authentication like we use for banking online is better.

Drones have been around for quite a while, and are quite cheap now.  But I have yet to see one in Penang.

Then there are chatbots. e.g. on https://www.chatbots.org/ The Flowerchecker bot could be useful. Less so the future president – DonaldDrumpfBot.

How about Backpack PC’s?  It makes sense if you are tethered to your PC for VR, and the PC is on your back – if it has a decent battery. One example, HP Omen X.  I hear Intel has gone one better and incorporated everything into the VR headset.  Not much info on this yet, but it makes sense.

And foldable / rollable screens could be here as early as next year.  Interesting.

Before you sign a contract, you should, of course, read it.  And you are actually going to wet-sign with a signature. But clicking “agree” to Terms of Service  whenever you install an app it is not practical to read them, as they are deliberately, it seems, made very voluminous and difficult to read.  I would argue that this doesn’t really form a contract as you can’t reasonably be expected to read such material, for reasons stated above, and also given what I will say in the next sentence.  A study from 2012 found that it would take you about a month every year to read all the privacy policies for every website the average person visits in a year.  The way companies have deliberately made it difficult and very time-consuming to read, with terms often unfair, and thus created a culture of non-reading of these terms surely negates any claim to be a proper contract.

So far I’ve managed to avoid  using a VPN, but dire warnings of free Wi-Fi at coffee shops etc. being hacked means I really will have to.  The one that interests me most is USD$40 per year for use on five devices, so not so bad.

Driveless cars?  So many things to avoid – other cars, buildings, footpaths, pedestrians, road signs, roaming children and pets.  I would have thought that pilotless flying cars would be much easier, as there are only other flying cars and drones to avoid.  They’ve had flying cars for over 20 years, and if mass produced the price would be affordable for many now.  No more congestion, as flying is 3D, where driving is 2D.  When you arrive the car flies off and parks somewhere.  Fuel consumption is also similar to cars, especially as there are no congestion wasting traffic jams or traffic lights.

I recently heard about subscription boxes, which are mystery boxes of stuff that can be sent to you one off, or monthly with an annual subscription.  They are themed, so you can choose food, gadgets, comics etc. etc.  The last thing I need is more stuff, but the concept of this sounds fun.  http://www.expatgo.com/my/2016/06/14/monthly-subscription-boxes-malaysia  is a site for Malaysia.  If you subscribe to one abroad, you may of course, be subject to customs charges.

And finally, I put Google Duo on my phone – but I don’t know anyone else with it yet.  It’s a video phone app, but with no fuss, and immediacy just like a phone. Just call, someone answers, and they are there.