Sunday, November 21, 2010

Our screens for e-book readers--it comes down to Nook and Kobo

Searching for an e-reader is kind of like buying a car.

If you haven’t fallen in love with one from the first, making the decision is a long slog. You’ll be able to tell that from the tone of this article.

First, why an e-reader? I’m the kind of person who goes traveling with three to five paperbacks in the carry-on, because on a flight from the Islands to anywhere east of the Mississippi, I can easily go through two. This is a Hawai’i problem; Most folks elsewhere don’t have those kinds of flight times.

It’s both a volume and a weight issue. Years ago, when the excellent “The Hunt for Red October” first came out, I bought the hardcover for a trip, but sliced the hard covers off to save on size. Today, I won’t even consider a Clancy book; way too much bulk for the useful content, if you know what I mean.

In my search for a reader, I immediately discount the iPad. I have already bought the hype and purchased one. I used it. I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to get books onto it. In precisely the right conditions, it’s wonderful as a reading device. But ultimately, I gave it away. I am over the glare, over the finger prints on the screen, and over the whole proprietary technology thing.

Which is my problem with Amazon and Kindle, arguably the most competent performer among the e-readers. If you want me wedded to your store and only your store, then give me the damn reader. If I want to read one of my personal documents on your machine, I need to send it to you, and pay money to have it converted to a Kindle format? Hello?

My e-reader needs are pretty simple, I think. Two basic things:

· I want to easily get diverse reading material into it. Books, personal documents, magazines, newspapers, and work documents (agendas, reports, environmental impact statements, legislation.)

· And I want the stuff to be easy to read on the device, wherever I am. That means anywhere from under a tree to on a plane, from in a meeting room under fluorescent lights to in the sack.

I guess I don’t need some of the features that are blurring the line between readers and computers. Like audio (my phone does that, thanks), web browsing (my laptop works fine, and I can also type on it), color (I’m not reading the pictures), touch screen (no way around the fingerprints, although the new oleophobic screen coatings are interesting.)

There are lots of resources for comparing e-book readers. Here’s a nice one. These folks really like the Kindle. Unfortunately, this and most other comparison charts only include the most popular electronic readers, and actually, the universe of e-readers is quite large.

Wikipedia has just about the most thorough comparison around.

Using that resource, and screening for non-touch screen, at least 1 gig of memory and ability to read library books (as a screen against proprietary systems), I got the Kobo eReader, Iriver Story and Bookeen Cybook Gen3. All of them can read both pdf and epub files, and though the Kobo eReader can’t read txt files, the others can. (And both Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer will convert to pdf, so that’s not a deal-breaker)

If we forget about the touchscreen ban, but require WiFi and at least 1 Gig of memory, then the list is Bookeen Cybook Orizon, Kobo Wireless eReader, Condor EGriver Touch, Spring Design Alex eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook and Entourage eDGe and Entourage Pocket eDGe.

Okay. One final screen: No touch screens, must have WiFi, at least a gigabyte of memory, must be able to read library books.

Kobo Wireless eReader is the only thing that comes up. However, the Barnes & Noble Nook has its touchscreen separate from its reading screen, so it’s also a finalist. There’s a simple comparison at this website, which includes the Kindle (for those not turned off by needing to be tethered to Amazon.)

So for this reader, it’s between the simpler Wireless Kobo and the significantly more fully-featured (and only slightly more expensive at $149 vs $139, at our last check) B&N Nook.

The Nook plays mp3 files, reads more files and also can browse the web. By contrast, the Kobo has a 25% longer battery life (2 weeks compared to 10 days), weighs about a quarter less (8 ounces compared to 11.2 ounces, or maybe 12.1—there’s been an issue about this.) Kobo is thinner by 20% (.4 inch compared to .5 inch.)

The Nook is Android-based and Kobo is Linux-based, if that matters to you. Some reviewers like to refer to the Kobo as Nook-lite.

The site eldergadget calls it a draw between these two, depending on which features you like.

That’s the research. Next, we’ll be going out to get a hands-on sense of which we like best. Which raises the additional question of what’s available on-island, one of the caveats about living in the Islands.

(Keep in mind that features, prices and models are changing all the time. If you do your own research, know that a lot of the online stuff is older, and the model you like may not be available in that same configuration by the time you’re ready to buy.)

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

The NEW Hawaii Home Energy Scorecard: Rate yourself

The federal government is planning to spend most of the next year developing a national home energy scoring program.

(Image: The photo shows a device called a Kill A Watt meter, which allows you to determine how much electricity any home electrical product is using.)

Here at RaisingIslands, we’ve developed a prototype Hawai’i Home Energy Score program, which will be quicker, simpler, and user-friendly.

On its face, the Feds’ idea of a home energy score is a great idea. But our caveats: Must it be so mired in the molasses of bureaucracy that it takes months and months to develop? And must it be so complex that you need “trained and certified contractors” to run the numbers? And you already know there will be stuff about furnaces and in-floor heating that make it minimally useful for Hawai’i.

And really, doesn’t the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program already provide a complex environmental design scheme that requires trained and certified staff?

Microsoft has a generic home energy rating system on which you can plug in your neighborhood and home. It’s called the Hohm Score, but it’s an estimate rather than an actual assessment.

So let’s develop the Hawai’i Home Energy Score system. We’ll use a 10-point system, and allow fractional points. This system won’t work well for apartments, and we welcome comments that will help fine tune the system.

Hawaii Home Energy Score: Draft One.

1. Lights. Walk through your house and check every light (including exterior lights) that you or someone in the household has switched on anytime during the past week. If at least 75 percent are compact fluorescent or LED, give yourself half a point. How many are turned on nightly? If none of those is incandescent, give yourself another half point. (Bonus: .25 points if you have skylights or other daylighting options, if you scored less than 1 on the main scoring.)

2. Water heating. Do you use a solar water heater ? One point. Gas or instantaneous heater, half a point. (If you have and use both, you only get the half point). Total possible: 1 point.

3. Insulation: Is there effective insulation under your roof? Half a point. Alternatively, an attic fan is good for half a point. Are your walls also insulated? A quarter point. Are windows designed to reflect heat? A quarter point . Total possible: 1 point.

4. Water use: Are your toilets low-flow (1.3 gallons per flush)? Half a point. Are shower heads and sink faucets low-flow (2 gallons per minute or less)? Half a point. (Most Hawai’I water is pumped using electricity.) Total possible: 1 point.

5. Air circulation: Windows that open and fans. One point. Air conditioning, no points.

6. Are your appliances newer Energy Star appliances? We’ll keep it simple. Since, after a water heater, the biggest energy hog in the house is a refrigerator, if it’s Energy Star, give yourself one point. If you have a second refrigerator and it’s Energy Star, make that half a point. If a second reefer is non-Energy Star refrigerator, even if you have an Energy Star in the kitchen, you get no points. Total possible: 1 point.

7. Laundry: Half a point for an Energy Star efficient washer. One half point if you have and exclusively use a clothesline. Make that a quarter point if you have a clothesline but still occasionally use a dryer. Total possible: 1 point.

8. Grid: Are you totally off-grid on renewable power, or grid-connected but have no net electricity draw? 1 point. Photovotaic panels on the roof, but still also a net user of utility power? Half a point. Total possible: 1 point.

9. Phantom loads: Walk around your house with the lights off at night. One point if there are three or fewer little red or green LED lights on—on computers, televisions, entertainment centers, charging stations, routers, emergency flashlights, etc. Half a point if there are four to six. No points if there are seven or more. (You can use timers to control those that don’t need to be on all night.) Total possible: 1 point.

10. Good habits: Do you and your family turn off lights in vacant rooms, make sure clothes washing loads are near full, recycle and so forth? If you think you’re doing all you can, give yourself a point. If you’re doing okay but could improve, half a point. If you’re more brown than green, no points and resolve to move up in this ranking. Total possible: 1 point.

This is a first take on the Hawaii Home Energy Score. Please add comments to this post or email us at with ideas for improvements.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got a 7.5 ranking on this scale of 10. But I see a couple of places where I can improve.

A great resource for information on home energy use is Blue Planet Foundation’s site,

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hop-skip-turnaround on climate science data source

The American Geophysical Union, in an interesting little hop-skip-turnaround, is insisting that its plan for a reporter's scientific resource base is not an anti-climate-denial initiative.

Although you might be forgiven for thinking it would work that way.

The AGU first operated its Climate Q&A Service during the climate summit in Copenhagen last year. The goal was to provide a place for reporters to seek correct basic information amid all the competing claims about what is or is not going on.

The AGU is aiming to restart its service, to tell folks what's going on, but, importantly, not what to do about it.

The organization decided clarification was needed after the Los Angeles Times messily blended the AGU initiative with others aimed at actually affecting policy. If you read it, be clear that the AGU initiative and the "Climate Response Team" are two entirely separate things. It is not clear in the article, and that has confused lots of folks with different positions on climate change.

“Climate Q&A Service...aims simply to provide accurate scientific answers to questions from journalists about climate science,” the AGU says. You can read the organization's full press release here.

“AGU's Climate Q&A Service addresses scientific questions only. It does not involve any commentary on policy. Journalists are able to submit questions via email, and AGU member-volunteers with Ph.D.s in climate science-related fields provide answers via email,” the organization said.

But despite all its protestations, at some level, it will necessarily act as a debunking service. That's because it will operate in a world in which you have folks aggressively promoting wild, sketchily supported assertions, like, “It's not really warming,” or “Arctic ice isn't melting” or “Sea levels aren't rising.”

In Hawai'i as an island state with limited options, correct information is critical. We require good data to deal with the impacts of ocean acidification, sea level rise, changing rainfall patterns, storm frequency and more.

And in a world in which many news outlets get by without a dedicated science writer, a trusted resource like AGU will help replace a veteran science writer's well-worn Rolodex of sources.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010