Wednesday, May 27, 2020

ebook Typos: Random House withdraw books for checking

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Following my complaints about typos and howlers in the Alexander Kent series of naval history novels, publishers Random House have now withdrawn the titles from sale while they review the text and fix the errors. This, say say, should take a few days.

In a full response, Random House say that mine is the first complaint they have received about the Kent series, but they welcome the feedback: “It is of the utmost importance for us to get this feedback so we can ensure that our customers have the best possible ebook experience. We really want to avoid a situation where some customers have a bad experience that puts them off ebooks in general.”

“As you are aware,’ they continue, “the entire publishing industry is rapidly expanding the list of titles available as ebooks and many thousands of titles have been made available and, although we do have QA procedures in place it is inevitable some errors may creep in, especially with older titles than need to be scanned.”

I welcome the response and I hope that my highlighting of the problem will cause all publishers to ensure that their scanned offerings are thoroughly proofread (by a human being, if possible) before they are released to the buying public. The good thing is that people who have bought error-riddled books are in a good position to ask for a new download of the corrected versions when they appear. With the Kindle Store, where Amazon retain control of the material, I suspect such upgrades will happen automatically. With other reader systems, such as the Sony Reader, it will be necessary for the user to initiate the download of the corrected version.

Gazelle: A new idea in selling your old stuff

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Listening to Leo Laporte's MacBreak Weekly podcast today, I was introduced to Gazelle. It solves a problem for all technophiles: what to do with the all the old stuff--such as that iPhone 3G when you've upgraded to a shiny new 3GS. Gazelle is a sort of shopping site in reverse. You fill your box with all your unwanted tech items and they give you a purchase price. Obviously you have to choose the right specification and answer some questions on condition, but it's a much simpler way of selling than the hassle of eBay. I've been an eBay fan for some years and have turned most of my old gadgets, including quite a few MacBooks, into welcome cash. But there is no doubt that preparing the ad, taking photos and watching auctions takes time and dedication.

With Gazelle you get an instant valuation and you simply send off your box of goodies and receive payment. The system relies on your honesty in describing condition, of course, but the same applies to any sale.

I asked Gazelle when they will be opening in the UK and, not surprisingly, they are currently concentrating on consolidating and expanding the US operation. They point out that anyone in the UK can sell their items through the US website but the seller would have to bear the international shipping charges. This may suit some sellers, if only to cut down the hassle, but there are some potential pitfalls. Perhaps the main one is price. Secondhand prices in the UK are generally higher simply because new prices are higher. And, of course, list priced here include VAT at 17.5%. There are also compatibility problems between the two countries. Presumably Gazelle resell in their domestic market and, for instance, a MacBook Pro with a UK keyboard would not be popular there.

The good thing is that we can look forward to something happening in the UK--either an extension of Gazelle or a local company with a similar offering. 

Changing language: Program, programme, application, app

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I have always been fascinated by language and, in particular, by the evolution of the English language. I am old enough to remember when the merest mention of geeky "hardware" or "software" would prompt gales of laughter from the technically challenged. Yet these two words are now respectable and fully understood concepts. No longer is there the slightest titter when they are used.

Ever since computers were first told what to do, we have had the (American) word Program. I've always had the view that Program is a computer programme, while the English spelling is reserved for radio and television output. Now, though, thanks again to Apple, it looks like program as a term for a computer application is on the wane--if it has not already fully waned. 

Now it is "app" or "application", with app becoming more acceptable even in the broadsheet press. No self-respecting mobile platform is now complete without its own app store. Now, also, we talk routinely about PC or Mac apps instead of programs. 

I also find it fascinating the way English (or should I say American?) computer terms are dragged into foreign languages and, probably, carry a frisson of sophistication that is missing in the local equivalent. Germans now talk about downloading as just one instance; they even use the charming past tense version downgeloadet

How RedLaser can save you cash

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Today I set out to buy a Logitech Harmony One remote control, enthused by a recent MacWorld podcast. I trekked down London's techie heaven, Tottenham Court Road, and was surprised not to find one. Eventually I tracked down unit in John Lewis's ("never knowingly undersold") department store on Oxford Street. It was priced at £149.95, about £30 under the recommended list price. I was tempted. 

But I whipped out my iPhone and RedLasered the barcode (that is, I pointed the camera at the barcode and pressed the button in RedLaser). Within seconds I had a list of prices from alternative suppliers and found the same item at Amazon for £118. 

So, again, RedLaser has saved me a lot of cash. Not only this, the iPhone's versatility and superb web browsing enabled me to order the Logitech from Amazon while standing in John Lewis's tech department. I couldn't have done that on my old and trusted Palm Treo. 

RedLaser is a superb application and can save you loads of cash over the year. I've also found it useful as a means of remembering things I've browsed in shops: all that's needed is a simply scan of the bar code on the box. 

As an aside, though, it was remarkable at home many web sites were selling the Logitech at well above recommended retail price.

iTunes Uni: new campus for the masses

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This one slipped under the radar as far as I'm concerned. In addition to all the usual iTunes goodies, including podcasts, we now have the iTunes University. As an avowed podcast fan, I was fascinated to find that university lectures and, in some cases, complete courses, have their own iTunes section and are available for downloading now. I'm halfway through a series on Old English by Dr. Stuart Lee of Oxford University and I have also downloaded two audio tours of the British Library which I will try out on site at the Library in the near future. The concept is excellent and the list of content grows by the day. Definitely worth a browse.

MacOldie welcomes contributions

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MacOldie (the blog, that is) is one year old and interest and support is now coming from all over the world. It's a tough task blogging every day and there are both prolific and fallow periods. Contributions from readers are always welcome; just email them to me (address at the top of the left-hand column). I reserve the right to edit stories but will preserve your style. And, if you wish, you can use your own by-line.

Michael

Red Laser: iPhone app makes shopping fun, saves cash

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Red laserEvery so often along comes an iPhone app that is really superbly useful and you wonder how you managed without it. Such an app is Red Laser. The concept is simple but brilliant. 

Out shopping, you often see products you'd like to buy but decide to go home and research prices before getting out the credit card. Well, Red Laser does this for you in seconds, even before you've replaced the box on the shelf. All you do is open the app and point the iPhone camera at the barcode. you don't even need to press the shutter because Red Laser senses when it has done a successful scan. 

Immediately, Red Laser searches Amazon and Google and produces a list of competitive prices. Here in the UK it sticks to British suppliers, as you'd wish. I tried it today at the Apple Store. A Kensington mini-USB hub was £9.95. Red Laser found it on the web for £8.81. So, taking into account the shipping costs, it made sense to buy from Apple. 

This is altogether brilliant and certainly makes shopping more fun and more productive. Apart from the chance to compare prices, it is a quick way of noting possible purchases and then researching comparative data on the internet later. Red Laser currently costs £1.19: a guinea well spent.

USB charger standardisation in Europe

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By Michael Evans

AS FROM NEXT YEAR all mobile phones sold in Europe must be capable of being charged via a USB cable and this is a welcome development. No longer will there be dozens of different types of charger, all with different connectors. Consumers will be able to keep one charger--a USB device similar to, for instance, the iPod power unit--and use it for all future phones. The word is that mobile phone manufacturers will cease to provide chargers in the box, merely a USB cable for connecting to a computer or universal charger. EU officials believe this new law will save thousands of tons of useless chargers being dumped every year. 

One problem, though, is the bewildering array of USB connectors found on a wide variety of devices. For some years the USB Mini connector has been common on cameras (for data transfer, not for charging) but recently we've seen the USB Micro-B connector appearing on devices such as the MiFi and the Morphie Juice Pack for iPhone. While this connector, the flatter Micro-B, is likely to become the de facto standard for most small devices, it is currently new and little supported. Micro USB I wanted a USB-A to Micro-B cable for the MiFi and had great difficulty locating one in Tottenham Court Road. One shop asked £15 for a one-meter cable and I thought this excessive. Fortunately, the internet came to the rescue and I found Cable Universe who supplied a 1.8-meter for £1.73, including tax. This is a very fair price and I bought two for under a third of the £15 in-store offer.

I then turned my attention to the Sony Reader which, in addition to the Mini USB connector, has a jack socket for charging. Strangely, the device will charge though the USB cable provided it is connected to a computer running the Sony reader software, but it will not charge from a hub or from a wall charger via the USB Micro socket. I discovered, though, that the reader shares its jack and charging arrangements with the Sony Playstation, so I was able to buy a USB-A to Jack cable from a local games shop.

Armed with just three USB cables (with Apple, USB Mini and USB Micro-B plugs) I can now travel light, with only one USB charger--either the handy Apple device or a multi unit such as the four-outlet Kensington charger available from the Apple Store online. This should be the future, but we do need to standardise on the smaller Micro-B USB plug. Experts tell me that the Micro-B is both smaller and sturdier than the Mini, so let's hope we find this on more devices.


PUMA segways in

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HOT ON THE WHEELS of the Segway comes the PUMA, a new two-wheeled rickshaw which uses Segway balancing technology and can reach 35 mph. Apparently it is a collaborative effort between Segway and General Motors.  

This confection is billed as another revolution in urban transport and I am grateful to the guys at Engaget (again) for their initial impressions. Apparently, it is quite fun to ride but is let down by the lack of infrastructure--that is, somewhere to ride it. It is unlikely to be allowed to mix it with road traffic, it is too big (and too fast) to use the footways and certainly too dangerous to be allowed into cycle lanes. Apparently GM believe towns and cities will be redesigned around the PUMA.

I tend to agree with other commentators that mass acceptance of electric-powered transport will not happen until we can repackaged something approximating to a real car and endow it with real-world performance, safety and range. Something like a Fiat 500 or Toyota Yaris with 100 mph, a range of up to 200 miles and a recharge time of under five minutes would fit the bill. Until that happens, and it depends largely on power-storage technology, the revolution ain't going to happen.

MacOldie is launching a competition to define the new verb "to puma".

i-Doodz for your own avatar

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IMG_0025Regular readers will know that MacOldie is far too ancient to be turned on by computer games. He's made of far more serious stuff than that. However, one little fun application for the iPhone has got the MacO juices running. That's i-Doodz which was used to create that nice picture of Fergus MacOldie clutching his iPhone in front of his iMac. 

The Doodz are a couple of British guys, one an artist and one a computer nut, who put their talents together to produce a handy little application which enables users to create their own avatar. It is a good illustration of the way in which many entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the billion-download iPhone Apps Store.

When you open i-Doodz you're presented with a selection of chubby naked bodies on to which you hang shoes, hair, underwear, tops, pants, hats and accessories. This is a really fun application and actually has a useful purpose. MacOldie has never looked so handsome, I'll wager. 

New to the i-Doodz stable, apparently, is i-Doodz Sexy, which is no doubt far too exciting for MacOldie's venerable ticker and he hasn't yet downloaded it for fear of shock.  Nevertheless it might appeal to more adventurous blogees who want to while away the hours on their own iPhone.