One of the things that has been especially useful during the year of COVID-19 isolation has been my Kindle PaperWhite ereader.
I was an early convert to ebooks, and not just because I worked on ebooks at The Voyager Company. I’ve always had vision problems. Being able to set the font and size of type in ebooks has made reading much easier. I started buying ebooks first for my PowerBook 180 (Voyager’s Expanded Ebooks running on HyperCard), moved to a Palm PRC and Mobi ebooks, and now, read ebooks via my Web browser, my iPhone, my iPad, a Chromebook, and for the last year or so, my Kindle Paperwhite.
The Kindle Paperwhite was the first Kindle that looked even mildly interesting to me; previous versions of E Ink were, as a friend once said, “like reading wet newspaper.” The version of E Ink on the Paperwhite (E Ink Carta) is much better, though it still lacks the glorious readability of Apple’s Retina screens. The base model Kindle is still pretty poor in comparison to the cost, screen quality, and utility of the PaperWhite, especially if you have vision issues.
What convinced me to buy a Kindle Paperwhite was that it was clear that I was going to be away from my books for a while, without an easy way to go to the library, which means I’d be mostly reading ebooks. My third generation iPad, while extremely legible, is awkward to hold for long periods of reading, and not really a great option for reading in bed (though I still use it for image-rich ebooks, and digital manuscript facsimiles). The Kindle Paperwhite is lighter and easier to hold than my iPad and displays more text on a screen than my iPhone (which I still use to read ebooks regularly), which definitely offsets the poor image display, and the fact that it’s grayscale, rather than the rich Retina color display of my iPad.
The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon’s mid-range Kindle e-reader, with higher resolution (300 ppi) than the entry-level Kindle, and a back-light. I didn’t get the 3G version with cellular access; WiFi and USB is all I need. The storage on my 2017 model is 4 GB, less whatever the OS uses; mine has several hundred ebooks, and about 2 GB of free space. The current Kindle PaperWhite holds base model has 8 gigs of memory and is a bit safer with respect to water than my previous generation PaperWhite. That said, I bought mine in 2017, use it daily, and generally get a week’s worth of reading before needing to recharge.
The 300ppi resolution, and the ability to set the darkness or contrast of the type, the type size and font (from a pretty decent list), means I can read the Kindle Paperwhite screen even without my glasses; the back light means I don’t need an external light source, and I can read the screen fairly easily even in sunlight.
My Kindle Paperwhite is perfect for late night and early morning reading. I can hold it with one hand, swiping to turn pages isn’t stressful for my hands (the high-end model, the Kindle Oasis has a slightly larger screen, more control over the backlight, and page-turn buttons). The back light isn’t bright enough to be disturbing to others but it’s bright enough. My Paperwhite holds enough ebooks to keep me happy even away from my own library and easy access to WiFi. When there is access to WiFi, borrowing ebooks via the public Library’s Overdrive collection is quite simple (I use Overdrive’s Libby app on my iPhone and iPad, and Mac, and can easily send books to my Kindle with Libby). I use Calibre to manage my own ebooks on my Kindle, which makes reading drafts of my own work very easy.
My Paperwhite has also helped my resolve to reduce my printed books to just the ones I use or re-read regularly, or that are otherwise not really suitable candidates for e-reading. More importantly, in the age of COVID-19, the Paperwhite has eased the misery of insomnia.
Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.
I used an Amazon gift card to buy a DOSS SoundBox portable Bluetooth speaker in 2017 when I realized I would be away from home and my stereo for an indefinite time. It’s worked really well, a charge lasts me almost a week of a few hours of daily use, and it’s easy to set up. But the sound quality isn’t much of an improvement on the speakers on my Mac.
In November I used an Apple Gift card to buy an Apple HomePod Mini. It arrived today. You need to have an iOS device running iOS 14 to set up a HomePod Mini, but it took me less than 5 minutes, including unboxing. You unbox the Mini, plug it in to the AC adapter, connect the adapter to an outlet, unlock your iOS device, and hold it near the HomePod Mini. The iOS device screen instructs you to hold the iPhone so that you center the top of the HomePod mini in the camera’s view; you set up a room location (living room, etc,) with a tap in the iOS Home app, the HomePod gets your WiFi and Apple account data, and you’re good to go (though you can tweak Siri via the Settings on your iPhone).
The HomePod Mini takes up about as much space as a navel orange on my night stand. You can turn off Siri if you want, and just use your iPhone to send audio to the HomePod Mini. The top glows when Siri is active, and there’s a touch sensitive + and – to use as volume controls (or you can use Siri). Tap the flat area on the center top of the HomePod to toggle between pause/resume audio, double-tap to skip forward, triple tap to skip backwards. A long press puts Siri in listening mode (an alternative to using Hey Siri to signal Siri that you have a request).
The HomePod Mini sounds amazing. No, it’s not like listening to my stereo, or even high-end headphones, but it’s much better, richer and with much more range, than my Bluetooth speaker or computer, and Siri works surprisingly well. I’m delighted.
I’ve been exploring what Siri can do with a HomePod that I’ll find useful. I’ve added the Home.app widget to my Control Center. You can set options for room control and smart devices in the app. You can also play audio on the HomePod from your iOS device in several ways, including turning on BlueTooth and holding the iOS device near the HomePod to transfer currently playing audio to the HomePod, or vice versa. I should note that I have Apple Music, but you can also play music and podcasts you have purchased or downloaded on your iOS device (pod casts default to Apple’s Podcast app).
Things You Can Do with Hey Siri:
Play [Bruce Springsteen’s] latest album.
Tell me a joke.
What time [day, date] is it?
Play [RSVP] podcast.
Play Night sounds
Play Rain sounds
Play Ocean sounds
Play Fireplace sounds
Play Stream sounds
Play Forest sounds
Set up a Sleep Timer
- Start a track, playlist or ambient sound playing (Hey Siri play [Ocean Sounds Playlist]
- Ask Siri to set the timer: Hey Siri set a sleep timer for [45 minutes]
Siri will play the audio for the specific duration, then audio will fade out.
Currently I do most of my writing on my MacBook or a Chromebook, while sitting on the couch. I do some work standing up using an older iMac, but I really hate the Apple A1048 keyboard so I don’t use it as much as I might. I use the Chromebook a lot for writing-on-the-go in places like the library; it’s lightweight, extremely portable (as long as their’s WiFi) and it runs a very long time on a charge; longer even than my iPad 3 with the Brydge keyboard, by two or three hours, depending on what I’m doing (the iPad runs out of juice long before the keyboard).
I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying an Ergo Depot Jarvis Junior. I’ll probably wait until I’ve moved to an iMac as my principal computer, and that move depends in part on how long I can see well enough with my spiffy high-end reading/writing glasses to use a laptop.
WeÆve recently put up two bird feeders, at two different windows, and that’s got me re-thinking how and where I write.
One of the bird feeders is attached to a window in an alcove that has lots of natural light. It’s a super spot for a bird feeder. It got me thinking about a way to write standing up where I can see the feeder (and the birds!), which is a bit more difficult for me to do at the other feeder near the couch where I write a lot, because I can’t really get quite close enough to the window to see the birds clearly (there’s a reason they don’t let me drive . . . ).
I’m trying a different standing desk experiment; one that has me rotating on a regular basis to writing in front of the window with the bird feeder. I’ve created another ersatz standing desk; this one involving a small plastic set of drawers resting on top of a low table, previously used by a sleeping cat and houseplants. I’m looking at this page for ergonomic guidelines about height and standing desks and this site’s nifty standing desk ergonomic calculator.
I’m mostly using the Chromebook; it’s a good way to continue looking at how much of a difference writing in the Cloud will make when it involves not only short form writing, like articles and blog posts, entering data in Google Sheets, and web-writing in general, but what it’s like working on long-form writing in the Cloud. I’m also using my iPad and Brydge keyboard (mostly, using Pages and Google Docs; I’m avoiding Microsoft Word unless a publisher requires it).
I could use my ersatz standing desk with my MacBook, but likely won’t. I’ve been using my bird feeder desk since March, and so far, it’s working better than I expected. Frankly, the birds are a huge motivation for me; they help me remember to shift, so I’m not standing rigidly, and they help me change my focal length, which is particularly important for my specific vision issues.
One thing I learned about my previous experience with standing desks: standing on hard floors isn’t fun, and dated carpet doesn’t count. I’m definitely buying a mat; a good one. The one my friends recommend is the Imprint CumulusPro. They’re now making the mat in a smaller 20″ x 30″ inch size, which makes it much more affordable; c. $45.00 rather than c. $72.00 for the 24″ x 36″ size. I note that The Wirecutter also favors the CumulusPro as a standing desk mat.
I’m contemplating wearing clogs or running shoes, because extra arch support makes a huge difference when you’re standing, though shoes/shoeless depends on the feet in question. Right now, I’m wearing a pair of Merrill hikers I bought for working with horses, and wearing good shoes has made a huge difference over bare feet.
Mostly though the bird feeder is a super addition; it gives me an extra incentive to use the standing desk, and it helps me remember to change my focus from the computer screen to the window on a regular basis.
I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the original iPod.
The initial iPod was released on October 23, 2001. I’m pleased to note that mine is still going strong 14 years later. It’s funny now to look back and remember that I was absolutely sure I’d never be able to fill up five gigs with just music, or as Apple put it “1000 songs in your pocket.”
I used my first iPod a lot for just listening to music, especially on the bus or working in the library, but I also used it for teaching. The fact that I could mount it as a drive via FireWire meant I could show students short film clips of plays or play audio files via the lecture hall’s sound system or workstation.
Now, I have music on my iPhone, but not so much as I used to; I’m streaming a lot more via local WiFi. Instead, that storage that might have been used for music is now being used for photos and ebooks.
I predicted that we’d be reading ebooks more; I missed entirely how much we’d be taking photos with our phone—though I used the cameras a lot on my iPhone 1 and 3, I mostly used them to take pictures of things I couldn’t see well, like street signs or small text on boxes. Now, I’m using the iPhone 5 camera more than my dedicated camera—and it’s changed the way I take pictures.
No, I’m not taking selfies, but I am taking a lot more spontaneous pictures because the iPhone is right there, and I’m still using the iPhone camera as a visual aid, even though new plastics have made distance and close reading glasses possible for me. But I’m sending friends and families more photos than I ever did before—and seeing more in response, too.
The Brydge iPad keyboard began as a Kickstarter project. New owners based in Singapore took over in 2014, and the current models are improved. You should look at the Brydge Keyboards Website for a high resolution tour of the Brydge keyboard models. Better still check out this video.
There are three versions of the Brydge iPad keyboard:
• Brydge+ with Speakers $99.00 USD
• Brydge+ Speakerless $89.00 USD
• Brydge+ Polycarbonate $79.00 USD
These prices are current as of today; the usual list prices are $149.99, $139.99, and $99.99. The keyboards are compatible with the iPad 2, 3rd and 4th Generations.
Brydge sent me a Brydge+ with Speakers and the Brydge case for the covered iPad for review. I’ve tried two iPad Bluetooth keyboards that function as a cover, the Adonit and the Zagg, and the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. The Brydge Keyboard is, for me, the best of the three. There’s a lot that I like about it, but the primary feature for me is the keyboard feel. The keys can stand up to serious typing, from a rapid typer. While it’s not as comfortable in some respects as using Apple’s standard Bluetooth keyboard, the Brydge is portable, and realistically, the Apple is not.
What’s In the Box
The package comes with the keyboard, a quick start guide, a micro USB charging cable, and shims. The shims are silicon caps that slide over the aluminum hinges on the Brydge depending on whether you’re using an iPad 2 or an iPad 3 or 4.
The Brydge + is made of anodized aluminum, with a look that matches the iPad case of my iPad 3 exceedingly well—it’s very Apple like in look and in feel. The Brydge has rubber feet on the bottom of the Brydge, and small rubber pads below the keyboard on the palm rest so that the screen of your iPad doesn’t contact the keyboard. Depending on which iPad you’re pairing the Brydge with, you slide the shims on the aluminum hinges, then slide your iPad in the slot of the hinges, turning the iPad so the camera and controls are not covered by the hinge of the Brydge.
Pairing With Bluetooth on your iPad
The instructions for pairing the Brydge and an iPad are very clear, and fairly standard. However, the built-in speakers on the Brydge need to be paired separately, though, again, the process is standard and the directions are straight forward.
This is not a standard keyboard layout. It has a number of special function keys for the iPad:
- Home | Displays the iPad home screen
- Brightness | Up and Down keys control the iPad screen brightness.
- Keyboard | Hide/Show Hides or shows iPad on-screen keyboard.
- Slide-Show | Plays a slide-show of saved pictures.
- Search Displays the iPad search screen.
- International Keyboard | Toggles between international keyboards (Depending on the iPad’s Settings International panel).
- iTunes keys | Previous Track, Play/Pause, Next Track, Mute, Volume Up and Down.
- Lock | Toggles Wake/Sleep on the iPad and displays the Lock screen.
I really like the responsive feel of the keys on the Brydge compared to other iPad keyboards I’ve tried. I’m accustomed to using a laptop keyboard, and am quite comfortable typing on an 11 inch keyboard. I adjusted very quickly to the Brydge keyboard. Now, having said that, the first hour or so I used the Brydge, I twice hit the special Lock key on the top right, which triggers the iPad’s lock screen. I very quickly adjusted to being slightly more cautious about which key I hit when aiming for the Backspace key. Some reviewers had difficulty hitting the Shift key, since the up-arrow cursor key is just to the left of the Shift key; this wasn’t a problem for me, but I routinely type on small keyboards. Even placing the iPad with the Brydge on my lap and keyboarding, the Brydge feels solid and stable. I did find myself forgetting that I wasn’t using a laptop in that I would attempt to use the non-existent touchpad, instead of using the iPad screen. I especially like the presence of the standard Mac Control, Option and Command keys; the presence of standard Apple keys are one of the reasons I like Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard so much. It’s enormously efficient to use standard keyboard commands for Copy and Paste while editing images, for instance. You have the image editing advantages of the iPad’s touch screen, and the advantages of the keyboard as well. The cursor keys are also extremely useful.
The sound is surprisingly good, much better than I expected. It’s certainly more than adequate for watching videos or films, playing games or casual music listening. The angle of the iPad seems to affect the acoustics in positive ways. You can toggle the Brydge speakers off and on by pressing Control-B on the iPad keyboard. Pressing and holding Control-B will un-pair the speakers so you can pair another device. The speakers don’t automatically pair; you need to deliberately pair them if you intend to use them.
Battery and Charging
Once the Brydge is paired and connected with your iPad, the back of the iPad becomes the top of a clamshell. “Closing” the clamshell by lowering the iPad until it touches the Brydge keyboard works much like closing a magnetic-hinged iPad cover; the magnetic hinge on the Brydge tells the iPad to sleep. The Brydge automatically sleeps if it’s on and not being used for a few minutes. Pressing a key (and waiting a second) wakes the Brydge. Pressing Ctrl-B on the keyboard for a few seconds turns the speakers back on.
I used the Brydge and the iPad for most of my computing this past week (the exception was using SFTP). That includes lots of writing, not only blog posts, but email and longer pieces using several apps. The fact that the Brydge supports standard Mac keyboard commands for italics and high ASCII characters makes it easy and efficient for serious writing. I also listened to music, watched videos, and finally, had to resort to streaming music for the last two hours in order to run down the battery and see how long it took to recharge. The recharge to a full battery was a little over two hours. I absolutely believe that casual use would allow the battery to remain charged for weeks.
I am really impressed with the quality of the Brydge manufacturing and design. It’s style is very much in line with Apple’s iPad aesthetics. The Brydge keyboard feels really solid, though I would have expected a warranty longer than six months. This is by far my favorite of the portable iPad keyboards I’ve tried, and compares very favorably with a quality laptop keyboard. I’m now deeply curious about the low-end polycarbonate model; it strikes me as the perfect companion for a student using the iPad to take notes etc.
After three days of extensive use of the Mini (a review unit on loan from Apple), it works and feels exactly like the iPad Air. Everything about it is of equivalent or identical quality: the display, the cameras (front and back), the performance, the battery life.
This is the iPad I’ve been waiting for. I don’t have a good reason to buy it, really, except that I love reading on my iPad 3’s Retina screen, but it sometimes hurts my hands.
First, the big news.
Apple is taking orders right now for March 16 shipping for their third version iPad. The specs are here. The crude details:
- Retina display with 3.1 million pixels (2048-by-1536-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch)
- New rear-facing iSight camera offering 1080p HD video recording, 5 MP images, stabilization, Auto focus (tap to focus)
- Also 2nd FaceTime camera with VGA-quality photos and video at up to 30 frames per second.
- Voice dictation (this is NOT Siri)
- An A5X CPU with quad-core graphics
- Both WiFi 4G LTE versions (buy the model for either AT&T or Verizon) and WiFi only. See Glenn Fleishman’s explanation of LTE and why you should care.
- Form factor a tiny bit larger (fractions of a millimeter larger), includes Bluetooth, battery life about the same, storage (16G, 32G, 64G) and pricing identical to the iPad 2. Black and white bodies both offered.
Other announcements included the refreshed Apple TV, iWork updates, the $4.99 iPhoto for iOS (which is available now from the App store, and looks very very sweet, but requires iPad 2 or the new iPad), and iOS 5.1, with updates to lots of Apple’s apps, available now.
My original 5 gig iPod, purchased in November of 2001, still boots, still charges, and still works. October 23 was the anniversary of the initial announcement regarding the then new iPod, and while mine still works pretty much as well as it did in 2001 (the battery is not what it was), I subsequently became a delighted owner of first a first generation iPhone (now, sadly, with a damaged sleep/power button) and then, an iPod Classic, and, last January, an iPhone 3gs.
But it’s been interesting to look back via this Macworld piece on The Birth of the iPod, and to look back at the pundits’ initial takes on the first iPod via a companion piece on The iPod: What They Said.
I started using my first iPod at first to store music, and then to sync data. It wasn’t long at all before it became an essential teaching tool for me, as I noted in this blog post from 2004 written in response to a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the Duke iPod project.
I note for the curious, that The Chronicle is still usually hopelessly inane regarding teaching with technology, despite their recent harried push at becoming cool with respect to instructional technology.
I’ve been thinking about standing desks and my ideal workspace for, well, a few years now. My interest has been spurred in part by people I know who, like me, write for a living, having positive experiences with standing desks. And of course there are the articles, like this one from early this month in The Wall Street Journal, touting the popularity of standing desks in Silicon Valley. Then there was this report from the American Cancer Society that stated:
women who sit for more than six hours a day were about 40% more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Men were about 20% more likely to die.
Then I started hearing from friends who worked in large Silicon Valley complexes that their employers had gone beyond offering standing desks to standing-desks-with-treadmills. Marko Kloos, writer and VP alum was a standing desk convert, first with a trial setup, and then via a local Borders Bookstore closing, a more permanent pair of standing desks.
I’ve had a lot of different tables and desks for writing on a computer. When I worked in media production at a software content company, my desk was a solid door; it had plenty of rooms for a task light, a keyboard, a mousepad and two 20” Apple monitors. In a lot of ways, that was my ideal set up. I have a good task chair and a lovely adjustable computer desk made by the now defunct ScanCo company in storage, and no room at all in the apartment for a large desk. Mostly these days, I sit in a comfortable easy chair and use a piece of fiber board as a lapdesk under my Mac Book.
I know a lot of canonized writers—most notably Hemingway—favored standing while writing. Thomas Mann used to write while standing and using the top of his refrigerator as his desk. At over six feet, he has certain advantages that at 5′ 3”.5 I lack. I’m not writing anything like the books they wrote, or keeping their hours, but on a long day, especially one that’s deadline-driven, even with frequent breaks and moving around and actually leaving the apartment to take a walk, I notice my back and shoulders hurt, and there’s sometimes noticeable eye strain. I’ve been reading about standing desks for a long time, looking at other people’s standing desks and investigating the various possibilities. As an experiment about six months ago on a whim, I moved my laptop to the top of a half-height bookcase. It wasn’t quite the right height for me, so I put the hard cover unabridged American Heritage Dictionary under the laptop. That’s actually worked pretty well for me. I can easily move back to the easy chair when I get tired, and there’s enough space that I can even shift easily on my feet if my legs or back get tired. Plus, the cat has claimed the bottom shelf of the bookcase as Hers, which means when she gets bored she attacks my feet.
The experiment has worked better than I expected. All the same, I keep looking at adjustable standing desks, like this one from IKEA, the Fredrik:
I know several people who use the IKEA Fredrik as a standing desk and are quite happy with it, and with it’s $149.00 cost.
Or there’s this one available from Amazon, the Safco 1929CY Adjustable Height Stand-Up Workstation, 29w x 19-3/4d x 49h, Cherry PVC Top for $290.07. It comes in cherry or oak finish for the PVC top. I’ve two friends whose employers at different companies offered them this Safco standing workstation. The top shelf and the keyboard tray are both adjustable, and the keyboard tray slides in or out.
Still, both are really designed for desktops, not laptops, and neither really offers the kind of space I’d like for a work area, so I think I’ll stick to my experimental bookcase for the time being. I note that oddly my feet hurt; less so than they did the first few months, but I’m contemplating clogs and possibly one of these “Anti-Fatigue” mats.
Anyone tried either of them? What are your suggestions for new adopters of standing desks? Did you purchase a desk or build one?
My co-writer, Dennis Cohen, has an interesting post on his own blog about the state of the iPad world. Dennis makes intelligent, thoughtful remarks on the iPad 2, the iPad 2 release and iOS 4.