Audio ads in The Economist Audio Edition

December 25, 2013
(Update March 27: It seems the audio ads are removed – well done, The Economist! Subscription continuing.)
(This is an e-mail I’ve sent to The Economist customer service.)
Dear The Economist,
I’ve been a loyal subscriber for about 10 years. For the last few years I have mostly consumed your newspaper through the audio edition. It is an excellent way to get in-depth news coverage when walking or driving, and both the content and the presentation are usually top notch.
In the last couple of editions, you have inserted audio advertisements. This disrupts my concentration and the good mood I’m usually in when listening to The Economist.
Unlike paper ads, audio ads cannot be skipped in a heartbeat. My mobile phone is in my pocket or on the passanger car seat, and when walking or driving it is a huge nuisance to pick it up, unlock it, find the music player and fast-forward past the ad (in the mp3 edition).
This deliberate degradation of your newspaper is annoying enough that I’m probably going to cancel my subscription by February unless you reverse it.
Do you have any plans to evaluate the audio ads and consider removing them?
Best regards,
Are Espelid Wold

The most energizing gadget of 2011 – a review of the New Trent 11000 mAh battery pack

September 17, 2011
I love gadgets. Gadgets need battery power, and the most cutting-edge gadgets sometimes need a lot of it. As a heavy user of my Samsung Galaxy S II, I’ve often had to recharge my phone in the afternoon, particularly on days where I use it for tracking workouts, listening to music and shooting video.A power outlet isn’t always available, however. Previously, I’ve tried using a Philips 1500 mAh reserve battery unit, outputting 350 milliwatts. I’ve used it  to recharge my Nokia N82 and, later on, a HTC Desire. It worked OK with the N82, but barely delivered enough power to sustain the battery level on the HTC. Also, the total amount of power in practice equated to less than one full charge on the HTC.

I mostly stopped using the Philips device – just not worth it – but I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement. This is it!

NEW Trent 11000 mAh
The “NEW Trent” battery has a lousy name and isn’t exactly widely marketed, but has a claimed capacity of 11000 mAh (!!), good reviews on Amazon.co.uk and outputs 1000 miliwatts. In practice, I’ve found that it can charge my SGS II about 3 times – ie a real life capacity of somewhere around 1650 * 3 mAh. And it charges fast – about as fast as a wall charger!The Trent itself charges from a wall socket – unfortunately not via a USB interface – and takes about 5-6 hours to reach full capacity. You can see a rough estimate of the current battery level on the main on-button – it has 1-3 LEDs indicating the level. It is not very accurate – one it hits 1 LED left, you’d better recharge the unit.

Operation is easy – plug in a USB cable, press and hold the “on”-button for a second, and power is flowing!

I would have liked to see a more accurate battery level readout and a USB interface for charging the unit itself, but apart from that, I love this big little battery to bits. It’s always with me when I’m out and about, and has enabled me to video/snap photos/surf/whatever innumerable times when the phone battery itself has run dry. And thanks to the USB interface, it can charge plenty of different devices.

It’s worth noting that New Trent has released new models with two USB ports and different power levels (500/1000 mw), so doing some product research here is a good idea. I can vouch for the general concept as well as the brand, that’s for sure.

PS: The phone was out of juice when I needed to take the photo above – thankfully the New Trent was available ;)

Review: Jabra Halo Bluetooth stereo headset

September 3, 2011

Summary
If you listen a lot to web radio or podcasts when commuting, shopping, walking and similar, this headset is a good choice. It is not ideal for music and extensive phone calls.

Intro
I’ve had the Halo for about six months now. I got it as a replacement for my Koss PortaPros, which I have been using as my standard headphones when walking to/from work, listening to music at work and listening to music/podcasts when commuting. The Halo cost me about 800 NOK /150 USD. My aim was to avoid wire tangles and getting more use of the Bluetooth functionality on my phone. I also hoped to be able to use them for handsfree calling, as they include a microphone.

The headset


The Halo has a somewhat plasticky construction. They fold together, and the folding mechanism serves as an on/off switch. When you “open” them, they turn on and look for the BT unit they are paired to. I haven’t tried pairing with more than 1 unit at once.

On the inside of the head band, one light indicates BT activity and one light flashes to indicate low battery. The right speaker unit has a button on the outside, which can be used to play/pause playback (works in most Android music/podcasting programs I’ve tried), to accept a call, and to speed-dial the last person you talked to by pressing it twice rapidly. Sound volume is controlled by sliding a finger up or down the speaker unit – works well! – and skipping to the next or previous track can be done by double tapping on the upper or lower part. It’s a little bit tricky to hit the right spot for next/previous.

The construction doesn’t feel sturdy, and initially I was worried about the headset breaking, but I haven’t had any problems. I do try to avoid leaving them at the very bottom of the bag.

In use
The Halo is light and comfortable to wear. An added bonus for me was that, unlike the PortaPros, they don’t catch in my hair when I take them off.

When turned on, they quickly connect to the unit they are paired to, in my case a Samsung Galaxy S II. If no BT unit is available to connect to, you might have to turn the Halo off, enable BT on your phone, and turn it back on to connect. I thought I might be able to use the button on the right hand side to make a connection, but no luck.

Battery life seems to be about 10 hours of sound playback. I haven’t really tracked this closely – I just try to remember to charge them every now and then, and battery life hasn’t been a concern. The fact that the Halo charges over microUSB is a big plus.

Not having wires is great. No tangling into luggage or bags, no plug protruding from the mobile phone when it’s in my pocket, no work administrating the one metre long PortaPro wire when moving around.

The Halo works pretty well for exercise – except that the inside of the headband has a comfortable textile material which will absorb sweat easily. That makes me reluctant to use them when running.

Sound quality
This is my only major objection to this headset. I hoped it would be able to fully replace my PortaPros, but when it comes to dedicated music listening, they just can’t compete. In noisy surroundings – like on the bus – where the sound from any semi-open headset would be degraded by the sounds from the environment – sound quality feels tolerable. But if you sit in a quiet office space, like I normally do when listening to music, it’s not good enough. Consequently I bring my PortaPros with me for music listening. It is possible to use a cable to connect the Halo via 3,5mm jack instead of over Bluetooth, but as the PortaPros are a little more comfortable over a long timespan and have better sound quality even when the Halo is wired, I bring those instead of extra wires for the Halo.

Phone calls
Phone calls sound great – that is, if you are the one using the Halo. The other party tends to complain that the sound from the microphone is too weak, and if the other party is in a noisy environment, I most often use the handset itself for the call. Fortunately, the Halo can be enabled/disabled from the in-call menu.

Conclusion
On the go, I mostly listen to podcasts and streaming radio, and I don’t do a lot of phone calls. The Halo thus fits my needs quite well, and if your usage pattern is similar to mine, I recommend it. I do hope to see a future edition with better audio quality and improved microphone performance.

Why opening Spotify this morning made me nervous

May 23, 2010

I opened up Spotify on the desktop for the first time in some weeks this morning, and noticed that the “People”-tab – sparsely populated last time I used the desktop app – was overflowing with Facebook contacts.

This is… pretty neat. But it makes me feel a bit queasy.

If this is how the social component of applications is going to work – by pulling your friends from Facebook – it means that you will have to have a Facebook account to use those social components. You can’t befriend people using Facebook when being hooked into another social network.

Consequently, to use Spotify to its full extent, I now have to accept Facebook’s privacy policies. For instance, I can’t use those Spotify features and hide who my friends are on Facebook. I don’t approve of this chain of logic.

The “social graph” functionality that Facebook has introduced is way too important to be controlled by any single company. We need an open protocol for this, just as we have open protocols for e-mail, web, telephony and so on.

The question is whether this change will come about due to regulatory pressures – Facebook is bound to run into some competition watchdog sooner or later – or whether an open alternative will emerge before that happens. (Unlikely as long as Facebook has a monopoly on the social graph and refuses to enable integration with other social networks.)

BBC article on privacy, Facebook and potential competitors
Facebook, Google and privacy (The Economist)
Facebook’s gone rogue – it’s time for an open alternative (Wired)
Diaspora, an attempt to create an open social network

A non-videophile’s review of the Epson EH TW-2900 projector

February 8, 2010

I’m not really a hi-fi enthusiast, but I do know the difference between 480i, 720p, 1080p, Blu-ray and HDTV, component and HDMI, et cetera. For the past few years I’ve mostly used a BenQ PE5120 480p widescreen movie projector as my primary video device, but as HD projectors have dropped in price I’ve been increasingly tempted to upgrade.

Epson EH TW-2200 and BenQ 5120

Over Christmas, I watched the first movie of the Star Wars series on DVD, and when you have to make the picture artificially bright to see any detail at all in dark scenes – so bright that you lose lots of detail in bright ones (think Kamino, for those who know Star Wars) – well, then it’s time to spend some money. Even if Star Wars is not released for Blu-ray yet.

I do have a Playstation 3, so all I needed to go HD was a decent projector. I didn’t want to spend a ton of cash, but I did want the full 1080p resolution. No point in half measures. Also, I have a small living room and poor placement options, so flexibility and low noise emissions matter a great deal to me.

After a few days of doing a bit of research, the Epson EH TW-2900 became the front runner among the projector candidates – I also read about Optoma and Sanyo projectors. Now having used the Epson for movies (Star Wars), HDTV nature bonanza (BBC’s splendid Planet Earth) and gaming (Rock Band 2) as well as watching TV online, I have to say I’m very happy. The projector is physically huge – especially compared with the old PE5120 – but it delivers on all my key criteria.

- Noise is low. It is at least as quiet as the older, lower-specced BenQ. Even though I have the projector underneath a table in front of the sofa, what little noise the projector makes has not bothered me at all. (I do run in “eco mode”.)
- Heat exhaust is forward and to the right. Very convenient when you’re sitting directly behind the projector.
- Screen size is good, even though there’s just 2,5 metres from the projector to the screen. (I use one of those fantastic IKEA projection screens. Ahem.)
- The picture is fabulous. Note that I’m no hifi expert, but to my eyes, the image quality is sterling.
- It has a high lumen output. Watching TV in a bright room works well, even without using the extra bright mode.

My conclusion: If you’re looking for a reasonably priced (I paid 11000 NOK) home projector with full 1080p and decent noise levels, you must consider this somewhat tank-shaped unit. I’m looking forward to many, many hours of movie watching on the Epson EH TW-2900 (not least Star Wars in HD, whenever that blessed day arrives!).

Three months on – review of the Kindle 2

January 5, 2010

As a gadget enthusiast and wannabe bookworm, I jumped onto the bandwagon right away when Amazon released their Kindle 2 with international support. It arrived promptly via UPS after three days, and I’ve now had it for more than three months. This is a revised version of the review I wrote after using it for about a week, written for calcuttagutta.com.

26.10.2009

During my time with the device, I’ve read 5 books:
- The Children of Men (PD James)
- Knife of Dreams (Robert Jordan)
- The Gathering Storm (Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson)
- The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
- The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)

When I unpacked the device originally, I was on a half-hour tram ride. It provided the perfect opportunity to give it a go. As I hoped, the battery charge was sufficient for immediate use. After switching it on, I could go online without needing to configure anything – marvellous. I searched up “The Children of Men”, bought it, had it on the device in less than two minutes and started reading. By the end of the ride I was well into the third chapter and having a good time.

The Kindle 2 is the right size. It doesn’t feel that solid, but it is pretty light-weight, which is more important. I’ll eventually get some sort of hardcover plastic protection for it, but so far it’s been getting along well with alongside my laptop in my backpack, protected by a cartboard folder.

The e-ink screen works well – the more light you have available, the better. It can’t compete with paper for constrast, but it reaches the crucial “good enough” milestone. View angles are great. I love the ability to adjust font size – being nearsighted, I turned it up a notch at once, and this makes it easier for me to have a comfortable reading position when using the Kindle as compared to normal books. The fact that the device is board-shaped means it is practical to read when holding it with one hand, and having the “Next”-button there on both sides means you can alternate hands. I’m really appreciating this – it means I can stand, eat and read simultaneously. The board-ey nature of the device also means it can be put down on a table and stay there without support while you’re reading – unlike, say, a pocketbook.

The device’s buttons themselves didn’t feel great after initial use, but after reading a few books on the device I don’t think about them anymore.

Navigating menus and surfing Wikipedia or the Kindle store is slow, but usable. The reading support (by an artificial voice) is surprisingly good, though not something you’d use unless you were desparate to read the book but unable to use your own eyes. I haven’t used the MP3 support yet. It is obvious that this is a dedicated reading device – and to me, that’s definitely a good thing. It translates to a good reading experience and long battery life – I have charged mine three times since getting it, read six books on it (my brother borrowed it to read one), and it is still at 50%. A book is supposed to be a book, not everything else a electronic device with a screen could possibly be, and I like that the Kindle is dedicated to being good book.

I’ve used the open-source caliber support application to convert PDFs and transfer stuff to the Kindle – works like a charm. As a result, I now have quite the mini-library with me wherever I go. And if you don’t have it on the device, the Kindle store is only a few clicks away. The books are a bit expensive, but not completely unreasonable – they cost about the same as a pocket book would cost from the bookstore.

I’d say the principal negative of the Kindle 2 is the lack of support for lending books to others when you buy books in the Kindle store. I really enjoy lending books, and I think many avid readers feel the same way – now I can only give a warm recommendation, unless I want to part with my Kindle for an extended period of time. And unless the book is in an open format, of course.

Two events really made the Kindle’s appeal dawn on me – first when I considered continuing “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, but opted for a book on my Kindle instead, and second, when I was reading a paperback I got for Christmas and quickly got fed up with how heavy and cumbersome it was to use while lying in bed. My arms got tired, I had to switch positions fairly frequently. That doesn’t happen with the Kindle. As long as you have enough natural light and a reading position less than 110% perfect it is easily my preferred reading instrument.

To sum it up – this is a nice device which works well as a e-book reader. I like it, and it makes me read more. It is easy to use, and at 2200 NOK taxes and freight included not that expensive. If you can handle not being able to lend books to friends (perhaps swapping Kindles is a substitute..?) I’d say the Kindle 2 is a good deal. Make sure you consider the Nook too, though the colour touch screen is a turn-off for me – makes it look less bookey and more like a tablet computer.

On a final note – I am disappointed that the publishers are trying to wrap DRM around e-books. You would think that after hopelessly trying to protect movies from piracy (1 movie = 700 mb) the publishing industry would realise the idiocy in trying to copy-protect books (one book = 2 mb, maximum). Getting bestsellers from the internet is easy if you want to, and there are compilations of books available – say 50-100 books in a package of 300 megabyte. Considering how easy piracy is, there is not much to lose by getting rid of DRM, and as usual, DRM harms the legitimate user more than the pirate – if I spend money on a book, I cannot lend it to others – if I pirate it, I can do with it as I please.

The lesson of the music industry is that you have to make solutions that are friendly to the consumer – with luck the book publishers won’t need 10 years to achieve the same insight. (For the record, I’m a very, very happy Spotify user.)

Acer Aspire 5670 / 5672 laptop issues fixed by resetting NVRAM

December 1, 2009

A friend of mine has had lots of issues with his Acer Aspire 5672. When I did a system restore (restart, Alt+F10 on boot) without getting rid of the issues (keyboard and trackpad not working, general system instability), I did a bit of googling (which I should have done right away).

Turns out that the battery, for some reason, can cause these sorts of issues. My friend’s battery barely lasts a few minutes, it seems it failing can cause this – though I can’t quite see the connection.

Anyways – removing the battery, unplugging the machine, and pressing and holding the power button for one minute (which I’m guessing resets the NVRAM) magically made the machine stable and caused keyboard and trackpad to start working again. Weird. But very nice to know, if you happen to have a Acer and an issue of this kind.

I haven’t tried putting the battery back in, but I’ve a feeling that you should just get rid of it and buy a new one instead of trying to get more use out of it.

This is a funny kind of problem – I thought for the longest time that it was software-related, since the Windows installation was pretty ancient. And since they keyboard seemed to be working outside of the OS (boot menus), I thought it wasn’t a hardware problem. I guess NVRAM/PRAM issues sit right between software and hardware. Lesson learned – if something weird is going on and you can’t isolate the problem, it’s well worth trying a reset of the NVRAM.

The Amazon Kindle 2 – a review from Norway

October 26, 2009

As a gadget enthusiast and wannabe bookworm, I jumped onto the bandwagon right away when Amazon released their Kindle 2 with international support. It arrived promptly via UPS after three days.

26.10.2009

I’ve just finished reading “The Children of Men” by PD James – the time is ripe for a short review of this practical little device.

I had a rather busy day when receiving it – so a half-hour tram ride provided the perfect opportunity to give it a go. As I hoped, the battery charge was sufficient for immediate use. After switching it on, I could go online without needing to configure anything – marvellous. I searched up the book, bought it, had it on the device in less than two minutes and started reading. By the end of the ride I was well into the third chapter and having a good time.

The Kindle 2 is the right size. It doesn’t feel that solid, but it is pretty light-weight, which is more important. I’m definitely getting some sort of hardcover plastic protection for it, as I doubt it’ll survive tumbling around in my backpack on its own.

The e-ink screen works well – the more light you have available, the better. It can’t compete with paper for constrast, but it reaches the crucial “good enough” milestone. View angles are great. I love the ability to adjust font size – being nearsighted, I turned it up a notch at once, and this makes it easier for me to have a comfortable reading position when using the Kindle as compared to normal books. The fact that the device is board-shaped means it is practical to read when holding it with one hand, and having the “Next”-button there on both sides means you can alternate hands. I’m really appreciating this – it means I can stand, eat and read simultaneously. The board-ey nature of the device also means it can be put down on a table and stay there without support while you’re reading – unlike, say, a pocketbook.

The device’s buttons themselves aren’t that great – they make a low, clicking sound, which I’d prefer it was without, it is mildly annoying until you get used to it. I can see it potentially unnerving my partner.

Navigating menus and surfing Wikipedia or the Kindle store is slow, but usable. I haven’t used the reading support or MP3 support yet. It is obvious that this is a dedicated reading device – and to me, that’s definitely a good thing. It translates to a good reading experience and long battery life – I have charged mine once since getting it, read one book, and it is still at 80%. A book is supposed to be a book, not everything else a electronic device with a screen could possibly be, and I like that the Kindle is dedicated to being good book.

I’ve used the open-source caliber support application to convert PDFs and transfer stuff to the Kindle – works like a charm. As a result, I now have quite the mini-library with me wherever I go. And if you don’t have it on the device, the Kindle store is only a few clicks away. The books are a bit expensive, but not completely unreasonable – they cost about the same as a pocket book would cost from the bookstore.

I’d say the principal negative of the Kindle 2 is the lack of support for lending books to others when you buy books in the Kindle store. I really enjoy lending books, and I think many avid readers feel the same way – now I can only give a warm recommendation, unless I want to part with my Kindle for an extended period of time. And unless the book is in an open format, of course.

To sum it up – this is a nice device which works well as a e-book reader. I like it, and it makes me read more (of course I can’t promise there’s no novelty factor involved there – we’ll see). It is easy to use, and at 2200 NOK taxes and freight included not that expensive. If you can handle not being able to lend books to friends (perhaps swapping Kindles is a substitute..?) I’d say the Kindle 2 is a good deal. Make sure you consider the Nook too, though the colour touch screen is a turn-off for me – makes it look less bookey and more like a tablet computer.

The lovely low-fi Philips AZ382 CD/radio speaker syste

August 18, 2009

Yeah, I’m usually more into expensive gadgets, like high-end phones. However, now and then I come across a cheap, low-tech piece of electronic equipment that merits a little attention.

Behold the Philps AZ382!

The Philips AX383

The Philips AZ382

Yes, this is the kind of device no one bothers to give a fancy name – like “iPod Nano” or “HTC Magic”. No worries – at least you know very few of the 500 NOK (80 USD) you pay go into branding the unit!

What’s so great about this sound system?

* It has a decent-quality FM radio and a large, reliable-looking antenna to go with it.
* There is a CD player there.
* You can put MP3 and WMA files on a memory stick and play them through the USB port in the front.
* It is small, and thus easy to place.
* It can run on batteries.
* Those speakers produce sound of mediocre quality, but they play pretty loud.
* And, best of all, there is a 3,5 mm mini-jack audio input port on the side! This means you can use those speakers to play from pretty much any audio source you have.

You get all this stuff for a very low price. Currently, this little utilitarian pebble of a low-fi system is playing news over FM in the mornings and podcasts and The Economist from my mobile phone when I’m working in the kitchen. The USB port works, but I haven’t had any use for it, as I prefer the user interface on my phone. Navigating thousands of MP3s through a numerical display is not ideal, but if you populate a memory stick with good stuff and set the player to shuffle, you’re good to go.

Apart from the less than fantastic MP3 user experience (which is really excusable when you consider the price), my only criticism is that the FM tuning dial is a bit too sensitive. In an area with lots of FM transmitters, finding the right one can be a bit tricky. Since the 3,5 mm jack is there, I’ve even sometimes just tuned my Nokia into the desired FM station and hooked that one up instead.

Overall, two thumbs up for the AZ382, my new everyday hero among sound systems and a fabulous example of a device achieving versatility through the use of standards!

Twitter: The good and bad

April 21, 2009

Time to let off some steam on the subject of Twitter.

As a Twitter user, I regularly feel like a giraffe strapped inside a small Lada stuck in an information highway traffic jam. Let me explain why – I’ll start by pointing out why Twitter is worth using at all.

Twitter logo

It’s a global stream of consciousness

Via http://search.twitter.com, you can peek into the thought-stream of millions of net users. What are they reading, thinking, feeling, doing? This real-time flow of information is unprecedented. Sometimes I search using some random term, just out of curiosity. How many people think about cheese right now?

Helps you find and follow people of particular interest

I have used Twitter to find people who are excited about the same technology I am – sometimes to find those who are actually making that technology and have interesting perspectives on it. Concrete examples: Nokia people who are early users of the upcoming N97.

Now to the bad things.

The world’s biggest, loudest echo chamber

If you go looking for original information on a popular topic, you will have to wade through many, many tweets which are just “retweets” of the same information, with no information or just useless information attached. This makes tracking topics through searches harder.

Spam!

If you want information on a product, there will be Twitter accounts spamming ads about it. Annoying.

Only 140 characters

Face it – there are ideas you can express much better in 250 characters than in 140. The character limit is artificial and reduces the quality of the information, since it has to be split into smaller parts or abbreviated half-way to oblivion. A few times I have given up on a tweet, because I couldn’t reduce its size without compromising the message.

Twitter does not separate replies (threads) from messages

Admittedly, this is changing with some basic support for viewing conversations having been added. Still, when I reply to someone on Twitter, that counts as a full-blown tweet from me when in reality it is just a remark relevant only to the tweet I’m replying to.

It is used for everything – by everyone

Ads. News. Personal info. Professional info. All of that in a huge pile of tiny chunks of 140-char information. It is messy.

No system for accomodating both hyperactive and sedate users

Some of the people I am following regularly post 10-15 tweets every day. Others average 1-2 a week. Naturally the former completely drown out the latter.

Unstable

Twitter is the only regularly unstable Web 2.0 service I use.

Conclusion: A massive, unique mess

Twitter is slow, unstable, encumbered by spam, full of redundant information and so simplistic it hurts usability.

For personal, semi-private use, Facebook‘s status updates are superior. Facebook is  a more stable service, messages have no 140 char limit, and it supports comments to status updates – my news feed resembles a kind of web forum for my life. It works well, looks nice and is reasonably fast.

Aimed at enterprise users, Yammer is a much more feature-complete service. Proper threading and e-mail summaries are the features I use the most. It is also nice to have auto-following of conversations the people I follow take part in.

Twitter, however, is open and has a huge and rapidly growing userbase. I can’t think of anything matching http://search.twitter.com, simply because I know of no other open service with Twitter’s amount of users and activity. There is no faster way to hook into the global consciousness online, and that means I continue to come back to Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts there, even though I very much prefer the user interfaces and feature sets of Facebook and Yammer.

For the foreseeable future I’ll continue to use all three services – as long as one is wide open with a huge user base, one is private and social-network oriented and one is tailored for the enterprise they will fill different needs.

I just hope the Twitter guys are busy learning from their competitors – given the momentum they have now I think it will be difficult for a rival to emerge soon, and the Twitter user experience has vast potential for improvement.


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