I am something of a Cory Doctorow fanboy. I own and enjoy just about everything he’s written (fiction and non-fiction), I read both Boing Boing and his personal blog, and via his podcast stream, I hear every talk that he gives where there’s a recording made available to him. I respect his opinions and intellect immensely, and I like both his writing and speaking styles.

Like a lot of frequent speakers, Cory tweaks and improves his speeches over time. I’ve heard this particular speech at least three times; but in December at CCC, he nailed it. With both the speech and the following Q&A, I think Cory clearly lays out the vital issues. Well worth watching.

I was excited this past Wednesday to get a notification on my Nexus S that it was ready to install a software update. Ice Cream Sandwich time! I proceeded to start the process, and as the download began, I frantically dug around in my bag for my old G1 (which I use as my work on-call phone) to take some photos and a short video of some of the steps:

Nexus S ICS upgrade

It was amusing to use my oldest Android phone to record the update of my newest one.

My update went smoothly (none of the revision issues that have been mentioned by some folks), and I’ve been exploring ICS for the past day or so. What do I think?

Well, there’s plenty of nifty stuff. First off, the performance appears to be roughly comparable to Gingerbread on my Nexus S; I don’t notice anything that’s obviously laggy. The upgrade went pretty smoothly; I had problems with G+ after it completed (there’s a photo of the crash report screen in my album above), but that was about it. It continued to crash even after a reboot, and I eventually went in to uninstall/reinstall the app. Surprise! Google+ is built into the ICS firmware…no uninstall possible. Instead I cleared the app data and set up my acccount and settings all over again (maybe a minute of work). No problems since.

Some of the new capabilities are pretty neat. Screenshots are SLICK (and long overdue)…just long-press the volume down and power button. Cool! I also had to immediately try out the panorama feature in the new camera…it works pretty well!

I haven’t tried the “face recognition” lock screen yet; honestly, that just seems like a novelty to me. But the new unlock screen is pretty cool in general. It has a “straight to photo” button (shown in one of the photos above) that saves a couple of seconds when you’re pulling the phone out for a quick shot. Appreciated. Also, you can go straight to the notifications pulldown without swiping to open the phone to the homescreen (this may be only if you don’t have a lock. I hope so.) I think that is new, but regardless, it’s pretty convenient. I often am opening the phone only to check/clear a notification.

The new information screens in ‘Settings’ are also useful…I love the detailed battery usage info that Gingerbread provides, and ICS adds to that with a data usage report. Very nice, especially for folks with limited data plans. In general, the new organization in ‘Settings’ is useful.

So…what’s not to like? Well, for all that I just mentioned that the Settings re-org was a net plus, I’m not quite as enamored of all the interface changes. My understanding is that a lot of them are from Honeycomb (which I never used), but to me they seem to be partially just for the sake of being “new”. It’s tricky to change interface elements that have been around for some time…there’s a cost to changing that which is familiar, and I question whether or not it’s always worth it.

The icon changes are *definitely* not worth it to me. They seem to parallel the (equally confusing) icon changes in Google properties in general; icons with text have mostly been replaced by not-always-so-intuitive graphics, and especially on a phone, there’s no way to hover and get more information. Within the Gmail app, I literally had to guess that I was “marking as read”, and hope that I’d be able to undo if I actually was doing something else. This icon redesign is rampant in ICS, and probably my least favorite thing.

In addition, Google managed to double-down on confusing with cut and paste; they changed how it worked, and then removed the familiar icons to boot! It took me quite a number of tries to figure out everything. Again, I expect it is similar to Honeycomb, so one could say that it’s been around for awhile…but there are a LOT more Android phone users than tablet users. For most of us, it’s new, confusing, and arguably of little value.

Admittedly, though…those are mostly nits. In general, I’m enjoying the heck out of Ice Cream Sandwich!

(Note: these are definitely just first impressions. I’ll continue to make notes, and either update this post or make new ones as notable things come up)

The Amazon announcement of a Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is pretty awesome. If you have Amazon Prime and a hardware Kindle device, you can borrow one book a month (from the current list of available books), and keep it out as long as you want…for free! (well, as a perk included in the $79/year Prime sub. But still, a very good deal.)

But this begs raises the question; how to find a book you’d like? Do you have to tap around the interface on your Kindle, a click at a time? Are you stuck looking at the “most popular” list, because you can’t bear spending 10 minutes just to dig down further in the stack?


It’s very possible Amazon will update/fix this (and I hope they do, putting this post out of business), but as of today, the way to search the lending list isn’t exactly intuitive. But the necessary info is there. A lendable book is identified by two attributes; it is “Prime eligible”, and its format is “Kindle Edition”.

Armed with this info, you can search from the Book Advanced Search page. Currently this works for me: http://www.amazon.com/Advanced-Search-Books/b/ref=sv_b_0?ie=UTF8&node=241582011 You can also get there by going to the main amazon.com page, choosing “Books” from the left-hand list of categories, and then choosing “Books” again (not “Kindle Books”) from the popup list. Then choose “Advanced Search” from the bar near the top of the screen.

Once you’re on the advanced search page, you can choose whatever search type you’d like: by author, publisher, or keywords…whatever you’d like. But once you’ve chosen your search criteria, make sure you choose “Kindle Edition” from the “Format” dropdown list. Then hit Search; that’s step 1 of 2.

Since you can’t currently limit searches to “Prime Eligible” directly from the Advanced Search page, you’ve got one more hoop. Once the search list comes up, scroll down the page until the “Amazon Prime — Prime Eligible” checkbox appears on the left hand side (it should be somewhere among the various other search criteria refinements). If you don’t see it at all, then the query you submitted resulted in no books that are in the lending library.

If you do see the “Amazon Prime — Prime Eligible” checkbox, check it. The book list will refresh, and the remaining books should all be available under the lending program!

Example: if I search for “physics” as a keyword on the Advanced Search page, and follow the instructions, I end up with (again, today) with this list of 6 books. A couple of these look pretty good!

Hope this helps. If you just want to click around and search the lending library on your computer, you can get to the entire list from the base Amazon page: http://amzn.to/kprimebooks (thanks to Andrys Basten for that link, plus the initial info that allowed me to track down the search attributes!)

It’s been just over a month now since Bianca the rat, one of the sweetest and bravest animals I’ve ever known, passed away. (It was August 16th, to be precise). I haven’t yet written anything about it, unlike when Thomas passed; not because it wasn’t important, but because I was processing. The span of Bianca’s life enveloped a tumultuous time in my own, and I have spent time thinking about that. And about her. And about Rooh, her sister, who actually passed away last November. I didn’t write then either; I was in an even darker place. But Rooh…oh, what a pure and happy soul. A true gift, both of them. I was grateful for every moment of time I got to spend with them.

Animals have a sense of pureness to them that you seldom see in a human; our lives and actions tend towards complexity, staining our metaphorical souls with metaphorical muck. We’re not intrinsically evil, mind you, just impure. Animals seem to avoid that; even though they can have a huge personality and feel like a person in your life, they don’t accumulate the drama, self-rationalizations, and pain that can come from being a human. They follow their nature, and when you are lucky (as I have been more than once), you end up with a little friend and life companion that loves you, no matter what. They don’t manipulate; they don’t judge. They’re just there, offering up unconditional love and support.

*shake* OK, I’ll try to avoid the rathole of Ken’s Pop Psychology 101. *grin* Death tends to make me maudlin.

I miss them both more than I can say. It’s bizarre to think that you could love a rat (and hairless ones to boot!) as much as I did those two dear creatures. But things happen.

Farewell, Rooh and Bianca (left to right below). I love you both.

Aren't rats cute?

I am having difficulty wrapping my head around the tragedy in Norway. My heart goes out to the people there. Horrible doesn’t begin to describe what happened.

So far, the response by the citizens, government, and police in Norway seems to be calm, professional, and solemnly appropriate. I hope that they provide an example here, and that we move forward as a world and learn to judge people truly on the content of their character, and not the color of their skin, society’s ideas about their beliefs, or our own personal fears.

As you heal, Norway, hopefully you can help the whole world do the same.

Well, I didn’t start out with a Google+ invite, but I managed to sneak in on Friday during the Invite Circle period (thanks, Jaymz!). Short version: I like it. A lot. I think the spirit of FriendFeed lives on here, and that’s a good thing.

There’s plenty of analysis and comparison floating around (including an interesting criticism from an ex-FBer here), but so far, the important factors for me are: 1) it’s a SN reboot. Usually a good thing. 2) it makes it easy to create, manage and use Circles (lists). 3) it allows for one-way associations (following).

Social networking reboots allow one to push through a manifestation of boyd’s law: Adding more users to a social network [site] increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance. Like it or not, the easiest thing to do is often wander on to a new SN site. And with the added benefits of one-way associations and easy list management, deciding what to do with that annoying person added you a Circle message is easier. Either just leave it as is (dumping them into Incoming), or put them in a list you never use (which gives them the nice you’ve been added back message without telling them the Circle name is NeverPostToThis.

List (Circles…whatever) management is a big, big deal. The fact the the necessary tools to do this are much easier to use in Google+, coupled with the fact that they are part of the platform from launch, should make an enormous difference (comparing to Facebook, of course). I actually do use lists extensively on Facebook, but management and (especially) usage takes a lot more effort there. Most people don’t bother, and when you have 450 friends, posting has to fall to the least common denominator. Google+’s Circles already make it feel much more like FriendFeed to me, where I had far more interesting and varied discussions than I have on Facebook.

The hybrid relationship model is also useful; you can have one-way connections (similar to Twitter’s follow), or full two-way connections. For me, this makes connecting to BigNames like Leo Laporte (or even Sergey Brin) something that I’m far more willing to do. For whatever reason, I’ve never found the fan pages on Facebook a particularly compelling option. With the Google+ following model, I still feel connected directly to the person, rather than a separate page for fans; I just am only able to participate when they make a post that I’m able to see (usually ‘Public’). I think it strikes a nice balance.

I think I’ll use it differently that I do Facebook, and that’s not a bad thing (Among other things, I expect to use it more than I do Facebook). As I mentioned at the beginning, it reminds me the most of Friendfeed, a service that I really enjoyed several years ago (and which ironically was purchased by Facebook in 2009). Friendfeed still exists, but the majority of the user group seemed to move on after the Facebook acquisition. If Google+ can fill even part of that hole, I’d be quite happy.

One thing though…let’s get on with the inviting! I realize the field test is intended to help smooth out any hiccups, but lack of network is as big a problem as server issues. Google, you’ve got a limited amount of attention time to take advantage of here…don’t waste it!

I am simply tired of this stuff: AT&T lobbies Wisconsin GOP to nuke Wisconsin’s best-of-breed co-op ISP for educational institutions

Something similar just happened in NC. I realize there’s a lot going on here, and that there are two sides to every story. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Grover Norquist’s “shrink government to small enough to drown in the bathtub” gambit would have a bumpy ride through the unmowed Lawn of Unintended Consequences if it were given a real chance to do so without a bailout.

So prove it, I say. Show me some evidence. Pick a state, Republicans, and really go for it. Privatize, cut taxes, go wild. But in return…don’t ask for any federal bailouts (beyond perhaps the total value of your citizen’s federal taxes) if and when the shit hits the fan. You don’t get anything from the rest of us until you cry Uncle!, and acknowledge that your worldview is broken, and you need to change things before we can have rational discourse.

And who knows, it might work. I can accept that; I’d be interested in seeing that (I’m a recovering libertarian). But right now, your assertions are unproven, and I argue, dangerous. Go experiment without risking the entire nation, if you don’t mind.

So, I’ve been thinking about T-Mobile’s new $50 Prepaid plan that includes unlimited talk minutes, unlimited text, and 100MB of 3G data. 100MB certainly ain’t much in today’s terms…but the kicker is that data doesn’t shut off after 100MB, it’s throttled to 2G. That’s slow, but a) it’s what the iPhone started out with, and b) it works for lots of things. Maps. Facebook updates. Foursquare checkins. Mail.

It’s an easy and inexpensive way for someone previously without a data plan to start to understand how this always connected stuff works. For me, it’s been a profoundly different way of interacting with the world. Not always good, not always bad…but really different. And with this, it’s effectively free. Nice.

So, I find about about Songbird’s improved two-way sync the day after I get my Google Music invite! Funny that. The Songbird improvements read as pretty impressive. I’m looking for exactly what they describe; the ability to piece together my scattered music library (work, desktop, laptop, phones) into one place, and (perhaps even more importantly) eliminate the “now you have two of every song!” oopsie that seems to show up when I try syncing tools. (News flash; I don’t want two of every song).

Google Music looks good too, though…especially the feature that allows you to create playlists via the web app and push them to the device. I may keep it just for that (unless Songbird also manages to do that!)

Anyway…interesting that I went from zero to two promising options in less than 24 hours. Let’s see how that goes! (I tried [Miro 4] last week; no joy there. The sync looks pretty brain-dead. Likewise the Amazon Music App for Android.)

So, it’s been a bit since I updated my review of various streaming services; here’s where we are. I actually like Grooveshark, and I have a premium account still. But the Grooveshark service is definitely in a weird place, licensing-wise; I’m not sure right now how stable its future is. That makes me a little reluctant to standardize on it as my streaming solution. And in the meantime, Amazon and Google have both cranked up their streaming/storage/syncing options for one’s personal music library (free for now, too).

This means that I can listen any music that I personally own from anywhere; my own machines, my phone and other devices, or even a random web browser. Excellent. And that actually changes the equation a bit for me; I’m not averse to a service that can’t provide any song on demand, if I already have my own library available. Providing the price is right, of course.

So back to Last.fm. They raised the issue in February when they announced that they were going to start charging ($3/m) for mobile radio. Existing users were given a 90-day trial period, and I’ve tried to determine if it’s worth using and paying for. As of now, I think I’m going to say “yes”. Given the new availability of Google Music (technically, I’m still waiting for my invite, but I’m sure it’s coming), the combination of Google Music and Last.fm gives me a lot of functionality for three bucks a month.

I think, at least. *grin* My new plan is to wait for my Google Music account, get things synced with that, and then try out this new combo solution. And then, another review! Stay tuned…