Barnes & Noble Nook. First Impressions of Tenderfooted E-Reader User

Last Friday I was able to buy nook at Barnes & Noble on Upper East Side. Turns out, they are already available in that store and in the one at Union Square. I have never had an electronic book reader before, so the following are my impressions being a first time electronic reader user. The software version I have now is 1.1.1, so all my nagging below is pertains to that particular version, unless otherwise noted.

Exterior and Packaging:
I really like the way it was packaged – it’s not quite like unpacking some Apple product, but it’s definitely better than average electronic device. The packaging is minimalistic yet elegant.

The feel of the unit itself is very nice – good size, fits well in my hands. I like that buttons allowing you to move forward and  back are on both sides of the unit, but I keep wanting to use the forward button on the left side to go back, when I’m holding nook with both hands, but that’s a minor detail.

It seems that the interface was developed with simplicity in mind, which is great, but it looks like implementation is where the problems are (as is often the case). Navigation is not very smooth, has a lot of glitches (example: navigation going back out of a blue). But again, this is a new product on a new OS, so they can probably work it out later – Blackberry Storm wasn’t very smooth either at the beginning, but two serious firmware updates later, the look and feel has definitely improved. I’m just hoping B&N will do it for the current nook model, not for next one, so that we spend another $250 to upgrade

Well, the whole idea of the unit is to enable the user to read a book, and it does so relatively well. It’s not quite a paper, yet it’s definitely not a computer screen, so I enjoy reading on this unit. Once the book is loaded, you have simple controls: you can go forward and go back using the two pairs of buttons on each side and some additional functionality via the touch screen: search within the book, go to furthest reading point/cover/chapter, bookmark control (add, go to, remove all), control the font, add highlights and notes, look up definition of a word (neat!) or Open Audio Player (see below)
Interestingly enough Go To lacks ability to go to a certain page, only chapter. I think this would be a worthy addition.
I liked how quickly the reader loaded a 100Mb pdf monstrosity named Pilot’s Handbook Of Aeronautical Knowledge – even FAA on its site posts it broken up by chapters, so I downloaded it and combined.

Organization: I was particularly excited about being able to load my 1.2 Gb pdf library onto the reader to have all those books readily available. And here is where I found out that nook does not support folders on the memory card! Imagine over a 100 books all listed alphabetically. Yes, this is not a sight for the weak of heart. There is no search either! No tags, no “read”, no categories – no way to classify them. Well, in my opinion, that really decreases the value of the reader. Essentially, the reader simply becomes a “screen” for reading versus a device that helps you organize and keep track of books. Now, from what I learned about Amazon’s Kindle, it’s suffering from the same flaw, yet there is talk about having folders.

It’s odd that such feature was not thought of to begin with. If you are developing a unit with replaceable memory card and advertising thousands of books that can be stored on it – you should REALLY think about how you are going to organize them.

I like to read books while listening to music, especially classical music. So, one of the first things I did was load music files onto the memory card (as to not to fill up the scarce space on the unit itself). After I went to audioplayer, I could not see the files. The Nook Guide says:

“Your nook looks for audio files in these places:

  • In the folders my music and my audiobooks in the internal memory. Optionally, you can place audio files in subfolders of my music and my audiobooks if you want to organize files hierarchically
  • Anywhere on a supplemental microSD or microSDHC card, if present

Audio files placed anywhere else in the internal memory are not discovered by the audio player”

Strange, I’ve even placed few files onto the unit itself, but it still would not see the After restarting the unit and waiting for a while, I come to conclusion that it simply takes the player a long time to load the list of files. At the same time, when I went to audio player after a long period of inactivity it showed me an empty list! Better yet, when I kept on reading a book periodically checking whether or not audio player had a chance to look up the mp3 files, after 2 or 3 “checks”, the unit simply froze on me. So, when you wake up your nook, let it do it’s stuff. Don’t rush, or it will go into stupor.

GSM: I got to play a little with the Shop section of the interface. Very simple and very effective – run a search for the book, and get a choice of purchasing or downloading a free sample. The ability to do this is of course subject to AT&T coverage.
Wi-Fi: The initial attempt of connecting the nook to my home Wi-Fi failed miserably – nook cowardly refused to connect to my WPA network. I will have to work on this a little more.
B&N Hotspots: I have yet to test that capability.

Random Stuff:
When connected to a computer via USB cable (btw, it uses micro-USB on unit’s end, which is great – when I travel, I will not have to haul a separate cable for it – i can use sync cable from my Storm and Tour), nook displays a message that says that if i want to use nook and continue charging i should unmount (eject) the drive(s) associated with it. Lies!!! I’ve done it. The message stays, and no reaction from the unit.

Despite all the rant, I still like my nook. Call it idealism, hopeful rationalization, or whatever you want. I like the fact that it’s made by my favorite bookstore and ties into its library. As far as glitches and bugs are concerned, I realize that this is a new product for Barnes & Noble, and they need to iron out wrinkles. If I had to guess, in the past few months they were primarily concerned not with how the units perform, but if they have enough of them. So, now that they are rolling them out into the stores in the next few weeks, I hope the company will have an opportunity to take a deep breath and address the issues. I will leave out the discussion on whether a company should iron out glitches before rolling out the product, or deliver the product to the market asap, creating interest, demand and dealing with issues later.
To summarize, these are the issues i’d like to see addressed, and preferably in the current model via firmware upgrade:

  • Interface bugs – smooth ’em out – the touch screen is a good idea, don’t let it down now.
  • Book Organization and Classification – folders are must would be great if it also had tags, categories, etc.
  • Audio Player – definitely needs improvement. If it’s searching for files on the memory card a message saying that it’s searching would probably be nice.

Barnes & Noble, you have a good potential product, you have a shot at capturing market – don’t let it slip away!

The price of being polite.

Few weeks ago I stopped by a Barnes & Noble store to see what I can use my gift cards on. I stop at the Nook counter (which in most stores you bump into as soon as you open the door) to look at one of the functioning units (they finally replaced the pieces of paper they used to have before). I have been thinking of buying an electronic reader for a while, and Nook is the leading candidate.
As I stand there getting ready to interrogate a sales associate, some older guy comes up behind me. I figure I better let the guy go first, given that I am planning to go over all features of the Nook. The first thing the guy asks is whether or not they have Nooks in stock. Sales associate answers that they will not have them in stock until February 1st, which is what I have heard many times. “However”, continues the associate, “we have one unit at the registers because somebody ordered two units but kept only one”. As my jaw is dropping to the floor, the older guy walks over to the registers and buys the unit.

No, they did not have any more of “returned” units.

Yes, next time I will NOT let the guy ahead of me.

And also, next time I’ll have to break the guys legs so he cannot make it to the register.

PS: For those w/o sense of humor – my statement of intent of breaking the guy’s legs and not letting somebody ahead of me is a joke.

Review of Manfrotto 496 RC2 photographic ball head

Bogen Imaging introduced a new line of ball heads in November. They are to replace the old models as follows:

Model 492 replaces the 482
Model 494
replaces the 484
Model 496 replaces the 486
Model 498 replaces … you guessed it… 488

Today I received my 496RC2 (the 494, 496, and 498 come with RC2 quick-release plates, and 498 also comes with RC4 quick-release plate) in the mail from Adorama and got a chance to play with it. I once bought a 484 ball head when i needed something small to put on my tripod, but I returned it soon thereafter, as I found it too small and got myslef an 804RC2 3-way head.

There are few features that improve on what already is a great device. In particular, all of the heads, except for the smallest have friction adjustment, which is great – really puts this head on par with the 222 Joystick (Grip) Head.
Lock knob (as well as the friction knob) is now a little more ergonomic – fingers are less likely to slip off the surface (486 had flat edges).
All models have 360 degree panoramic rotation. The 498 model has a separate pan lock.

It seems engineers at Manfrotto put additional thought into making the head lighter without sacrificing the strength – the 496RC2 weighs in at 0.93 lbs. – lighter than 1.01 lbs of its predecessor – may not seem like much, but I am sure it will make a difference on a hike or in carry-on. The way it was achieved is cutouts on the sides

… as well as on the release plate assembly

I know I’ll be taking this head on the trips, rather than the 1.72 lbs 222 joystick.

The only one problem i may have with this head is the quick release safety – it does not stay in unlocked position (as it does on 222, for example). I would really prefer it to stay unlocked so it’s easier to operate the release with one finger.

Overall, this is a great head, and I am thinking of selling my 222 in the near future. The construction is solid (as is always the case with Manfrotto), supports decent amount of weight (496 RC2 supports 13.23 lbs). I probably would not ditch a 486RC2 head if I had one to buy 496RC2, but as a new purchase of this type of head – this is definitely a “go”.
Here are few shots of the head on its own and mounted on my 190 CXPRO4.

I buy my gear from Adorama and B&H Photo Video.

Running a file

Double-click an executable file…
“You seem to want to run this  program – are you sure?”
“Like, totally, really sure?”
“Are you sure you dont want to delete it instead?”
“No, just run it, please”
“You know that this little programmy thingy can hurt you, right? You wouldn’t want to have a boo-boo”
“Yes, i know, I am also sure it will not, i’ve ran it many times”
“But you never know. There are many things out there in the big and scary Internet, why don’t you stick around with the small and cosy world of our company?”
“Ok, how about this – i’ve been doing this stuff for NN years, i know what i want, just run the program?”
“Would you like this little cute puppy on your screen?”
“No. just run the damn program!”
“Hey, no need to be defensive i just want to let you know that our company also has this great suite of flashy software that does all the same stuff this program and does also offers counseling and hand-holding. Want to try this one instead?”
“No. Could you please, start the program?”
“Look at that puppy, look at him! Isn’t he adorable? I used to have another cute pet – it was a paper clip. It loved to ask questions and offer help… Some people didn’t get it though, I guess. He was sent to recycling… Life is a funny thing, you know… I remember this one time I was updating myself and … “
“Ok, how about this – we are just going to just forget that I ever double-clicked anything, ok?”
“Ok, just for you and just today. By the way, there is this offer for this security software our company produces – it will make sure that you will not start any bad software on your computer”
“Oh… thanks. Awesome. Really… Yeah”
“And, btw, i already started that program you double-clicked 20 minutes ago”
“Yeah. It was asking a lot of questions, so i just said Yes, so that it wouldn’t distract you from our conversation. I also changed the default e-mail client back to our flashy client. It came in the bundle, so if you are using the other programs from that bundle, I know you really want to use that one instead of your old one, right?”
“Ok. just whatever. Nice talking to you”
“Yeah! Any time! Hey, could you do me a favor – restart me please? See, you moved your mouse, you need to restart your computer for changes to take effect”

Nobel Hope Prize

President Barack Obama was awarded Nobel Peace Prize
This supposedly puts him in the same league as these people:
Henry Dunant (1901)
Woodrow Wilson (1919)
Emily Greene Balch (1946)Ralph Bunche (1950)
Martin Luther King Jr. (1964)
Andrei Sakharov (1975)
Mother Theresa (1979)
Jodi Williams (1997)
(see here)
.. and many others who have, indeed, made contributions to “a wide range of fields including advocacy of human rights, mediation of international conflicts, and arms control.”

This puzzles me – what has our president done that elevates him to the level of these people and organizations? I guess the Nobel Peace Prize Committee needs to re-evaluate their criteria and stop playing favoritism. As far as I can see, so far our President has only been talking.


Free Examine by Minimal Wage Proctologist (courtesy TSA)

From Bruce Schneier: “last month someone tried to assassinate a Saudi prince by exploding a bomb stuffed in his rectum”

For sake of our dignity (or whatever there is left of it, anyways) we CANNOT let anybody from TSA find out about it. And God forbid, they watched Man on Fire Can’t you see what will happen? There was a shoe-bomber, and now we have to remove our shoes. Now, there is a precedent of ass-bomber, and we may end up having a mandatory cavity search… by a bomb squad… consisting of TSA personnel !

I wonder if anybody will try to blow up something using explosives hidden in a bra. After that TSA will ban bras from planes and women will have to remove them before proceeding past the security checkpoint. I’ll just be hanging out by the checkpoints. Look at the bright side though – men now have absolute right (if not an obligation) to look at girl’s rack while talking to them – “Hey, those don’t look real, i think i’m going to keep an eye on them to make sure she’s not a terrorist”.