Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Childhood's End & Rework

Just couple days after the previous audiobook post, I finished two more books:
  • Childhood's End (by Arthur C. Clarke) was a first Clarke novel I've read since I was a teenager. Naturally the early year it was written (1953) is evident on technology description, but it did not make the book less enjoyable.
  • Rework (by the guys at 37signals) was a disappointment. Even though I knew it was a short book consisting of a collection of small pieces of productivity/small business advice the end result was too scattered and self-promoting for me. On the book the writers boast that they've edited almost 50% of the text out in last stages - maybe they should've edited it a bit more? To books merit, there was many good pieces of advice and things that resonate well with the common sense at work - one good example was how inefficient the meeting culture usually is, and the many suggestions to improve/replace it.
At the moment my commutes are filled with House Rules (by Jodi Picoult). More about that next week..

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Crop of audiobooks

Ever since my change of job last summer and the fact that the new work resides physically quite far away has naturally changed my commuting routines completely; No more bus or train rides to the city center and back, usually with magazines and books to read and music and podcasts in my ears. No more handy time off both work and home for personal notes in journal, or emails. Now it has been roughly one hour car trip one way every day, only occasionally broken with days on the train.

As the finnish radio programs have never really kept my interest I tried to find out some real content to fill the long commutes. On this first year, audiobooks have been the filling. Audiobooks, and occasional conversations on the phone with friends on the phone (anohter habit I had almost forgot under the huge amount of SMS and emails).

Now it has been almost 10 months since I started the long commutes and during that time I've listened 21 audiobooks. The number was a surprise. I do not remember a year in my adulthood where I've read more than five book in a year (non-work-related books, that is).

Here's the list of books so far in rough chronological order, with rbrief comments attached:

  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (John Perkins) - Thought-provoking narrative on multinational companies behaviour with developing countriers. Facts or fiction, who knows?
  • Getting Things Done (David Allen) - A bit over-hyped but still inspirational book for time management disasters like myself. Ever since listening I've used GTD-like methods with success.
  • Legacy of Ashes (Tim Weiner) - Perhaps a bit one-sided view on the history of CIA. Gripping book, nevertheless.
  • Endymion (Dan Simmons) - I even have this book but never finished it on paper. All four books of 'Hyperion cantos' were quite an effort to listen timewise but I did enjoy them all.
  • The Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
  • Hyperion (Dan Simmons)
  • The Rise of Endymion (Dan Simmons)
  • A Game of Thrones (George R. R. Martin) - Another multi-book monster (A Song of Ice and Fire) started. Enjoyed the different (more traditional?) kind of fantasy book after a loong while. Have not continued with the series yet but I will.
  • Rivo Satakieli (Leena Lehtolainen) - Trip to finnish detective story genre. Will not be the last one, especially if the plots vary enough. It was fun to have the story happening at Espoo (where we live). Bought for few euros from a book fair. There should be electronic distribution for finnish audiobooks!
  • Life of Pi (Yann Martel) - Well-told road-trip with Indian and ocean-going twist.
  • Ubik (Philip K. Dick) - First Philip K. Dick novel I've tried. Short and confined. Liked but not the best of all things.
  • Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) - As a physical book this is a monster, as audiobook not as frightening. As computer history/security/crypto things are close to my heart this was pure joy. More like this?
  • Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson) - bought this with in the good feeling from the previous book. More on the pure scifi/cyberpunk genre. Did like!
  • Redo Moon Rising (Matthew Brzezinski) - Phew, what a contrast to 'Snow Crash'! Historical view to the race to the space. A bit limited, but included facts that I would've not come accross elsewhere, especially on the USSR-side of things.
  • The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) - We have this book physically, but as no time to read it I decided to go for it. Well-told story. Left me thinking for a long time the life in totally different cultures - how narrow-viewed we really are, and very lucky at the same time..
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini) - Chose this after good experience of the 'runner. Similar good qualities, enjoyed very much!
  • The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown) - As having read the previous Browns I knew I would read this eventually. So why not now. Dan Brown cannot help copying from his previous bestsellers which was a bit annoying. There was no diffinculty on listening through this. I'm just hoping that the next one would be very different..
  • Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick) - The original novel loosely behind the Blade runner movie. More enjoyable than the previous novel of his I listened. Now I want to see the movie again!
  • Sarasvatin Hiekkaa (Risto Isomäki) - Recommendation from an old aquaintance. Well, the story was a good one, but perhaps too one-track-mind without sufficient self-critique to be really good.
  • Sinuhe Egyptiläinen (Mika Waltari) - I did start listening to this years back on CD:s. Now, after converting to iPod friendly format I did get back and listened the last 15 or so hours. No wonder this has been a worldwide bestseller. Thoughtprovoking, pondering, very human story in its historical marvel.
  • A Scanner Darkly (Philip K Dick) - Finished this just this morning. Trippy story blended my dizzines of super-early-morning train journey. Again a book leaving me wanting to see the movie. Well, usually they dissappoint - do they?
The following books I have 'cued' already on my iPod:
  • Childhoods End (Arthur C Clarke) - currently playing
  • House Rules (Jodi Picoult)
There's at least the following books I have earmarked recently for listening.

  • Rework (37signals)
  • Fatal System Error (Joseph Menn)
  • Daemon (Daniel Suarez) - any legal way to get these on Europe? audible.com seems to restrict the sales of Suarez books only to US.
  • Freedom (Daniel Suarez)
As hinted above, most of the books have been bought from audible.com using their two-books-a-month subscription. I have been pretty pleased with the selection so far. I will start to use the local library much more in the future, if I just have the time for all that CD ripping.

Any recommendations? Please fill in with the very best audiobooks you've listened to!

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

One way to get your TV shows to your S60 mobile for viewing

I commute daily via either bus or train & underground. The one-way trip is 40+ minutes door to door. Sometimes I read or listen to podcasts or audio books. Once in a while I watch a TV show from my mobile or Nokia 770 tablet.

I have moved just lately to following tool chain to get the shows to my mobile is eyetv, iTunes, MyTunesRSS and S60 podcasting. It is not by all means perfect but it is definitely usable.

1) Recording the TV shows
On my iMac I am using Miglia TVMini for watching and recording . I bought the stick when the Elgato eyetv (http://www.elgato.com/) was still bundled with it. I just love the eyetv software. I haven't seen a match of the similar software in the Windows world.

So, I record the TV-shows as usual from the terrestial DVB. We use the iMac as primary TV at home as the pvr functionality is just so convenient. This might change when we buy a proper set-top-box to the living room - this move would free the mac for use as a computer ;)

2) Converting the files suitable to format suitable for the S60 phone

In this easy-as-possible route, I use eyetvs built in "convert to iPod" functionality. To make it happen automatically I tick the "convert to iPod" checkbox for the scheduled shows I want to view from the mobile. I found that though the "Fastest MP4" option produces files which are viewable on the phone. The E61i cannot handle the H.264 which would produce much smaller files. There is an interactive way to export files from eyetv with more suitable parameters but you cannot make that automatic.

Default (iPod) export options of eyetv

I have not yet checked whether the default option that uses H.264 codec produces files that are viewable in N-series models. The E61i does not have the codec nor the horsepower to do view them.

3) Making the files available

In this stage I used to transfer the files via USB cable which is reasonably fast but requires manual steps and time with the computer: Not usually doable in a busy morning with a little girl living in the house. I wanted to have the phone update the shows wirelessly in automatic fashion during the night.

As I use the S60 podcasting application daily I thought to give it a try also with the videos. E61i has WLAN and is therefore able to contact our home network. The missing link was a server software to produce RSS feeds with the video files as enclosures.

MyTunesRSS generated page

After some googling MyTunesRSS (http://www.codewave.de/products/mytunesrss/) seemed suitable for the job. The ease of installation was also reason to try it first. The software is intended for interactive browsing and streaming for your iTunes library, especially PSP in mind. PSP browser seems to support RSS nicely to make it work. When trying out the software and browsing the generated pages, I found out that the generated RSS link is static per iTunes folder, and can be therefore reused. As the generated pages require login and password, having the RSS feed to change its address would render the software unusable for me. The link is very long so copy&pasting and e-mailing was only practical way to get it to the phone.

4) Getting the files to the phone

The S60 podcasting application (http://www.nokia.com/podcasting) was able to use the RSS feed without problems. Setting the app to use the home WLAN and updating the feeds resulted the shows and their sizes to show on the screen exactly the same way as audio podcasts.

TV programs from iTunes
S60 podcasting view to the served videos

Downloading the shows is slow business. I haven't investigated this further whether it is due to the S60 application, MyTunesRSS, WLAN encryption or the WLAN throughput in the phone in general. The download speeds are around 70-80kb/s, which adds up to really long download times - over an hour per 500M episode.

Despite long download times I prefer this approach over the USB cable. If I just remember initiate the downlaods in the evening the mobile is "topped up" in the morning.

5) Things to improve

- Make the files smaller than the eyetv default (e.g. using applescript and external utilities)
- Better alternative to MyTunesRSS (easier RSS feed link(s))
- Enhance the transfer speed
- The S60 podcasting application has some bugs & annoyances.
- Get a bit more suitable phone, e.g. N95 8GB, which is faster and could handle also the H.264.

Update 20071005: Tried the system with N95. The WLAN download rates were considerably better being between 300-600kB/s. With those speeds rather quick covert+download cycles could be possible.

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