Thursday, 20 January 2011

Kindle me books

I got me a new Kindle in the mail yesterday from Amazon, one of the first of a slowly growing selection of ebook readers. They use E Ink screens, which don't use any battery power until the screen has to change, and are easier on the eyes as they are not backlit like the LCD screens we know and use all the time.

I got one because of the amount of screen time I have at the moment, especially with many of my readings for University being in PDF format to save paper (which is fair enough, especially given some of my courses). I'm also a bit of a techno geek.

So, what's the deal with the Kindle? Well, it's not ideal in many ways, and not necessarily A1 with the Green Party's Information Technology Policy (pictured on my Kindle). That's because Amazon has made every effort to sell their Kindle's to make money of selling ebooks off their website, where you can choose from over half a million digitised books, along with some magazine and newspaper subscriptions. They make it clear they own the software on your Kindle in the terms and conditions, and have programmed the Kindle not to accept the widely used, open source format ePub. This is the format of Google's free books, many of which are free because they are no longer under copyright. As far as I can tell, most of these types of books on Amazon, when available, cost US$0.99, though some are free.

The Green Party's IT policy is all about promoting open source software as a collaborative and sharing alternative to the relatively monopoly of Microsoft's software, which you have to buy a license to use. (For the record I use Ubuntu).

Then there is the infamous (in the US at least) time that Amazon ironically removed copies of 1984 from everyone's Kindle who bought one when it became clear that it shouldn't have been sold by Amazon in the first place. This made many question what owning a Kindle and an ebook really meant when it came to Amazon.

The good news is, that there are converters you can download online, to convert ePub and other formats to Kindle-friendly formats, and upload them to you device from your computer.

So why did I go with the Kindle, when all other main ebook readers available, including the ones for retail sale in NZ (from Whitcoulls), are open source friendly? Cause it's a good deal, one of the best, and has a browser (and I wanted to be able to read the news online for free. I'm a poor student, OK?). It cost me NZ$250, including shipping and an NZ adapter plug for the basic, Wifi model.

And there are always ways around their software trickery...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

House sitting and other community-minded things

For the last week and a bit my girlfriend Raven and I have been having somewhat of a staycation, but not in its truest form. A staycation is really meant to be about staying at home and relaxing, but we've gone one better - stayed at other people's much nicer homes.

First up was my mother's house, a really lovely old sunny villa, with one skittish black and white cat and a small veggie garden to look after. It's always a bit of a holiday looking after the place, giving us a break from our usual student squalor.

Second, where I am now, is one of Raven's friend's place, by the beach on Wellington's sunny south coast. Though we must depart tomorrow, we've had a lovely time watching the southerlies role in, feeding the cat and the chickens. And I've learnt how to handle and feed chickens, which is a great skill for a city boy to have.

While people are away (including at green events like ReGen) those still at home can have a lovely time in their houses, or atleast learn some new skills. But most importantly its about community. Helping each other out.

Sometimes helping others may be an inconvenience and feel like a burden in our busy lives, or at least not seem like it's in our narrow self interest, which our modern economy so tells us should be our main motivation for everything we do. This has meant we really are becoming separated from one another, and that's to our detriment when we need help ourselves, and for our happiness of spending time with others.

So, especially now when you should have extra time, make sure you help those in need, or ask for help if you need it. Just remember to say please!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Last stretch in India plus pics

 The Taj

Streets of Mcleodganj

Raven and a local

One of the many environmental signs (amongst the rubbish sadly)

An auto rickshaw (powered by compressed natural gas) in Delhi

The contrast of Singapore on the way over

The Baha'i Lotus Temple in Delhi

I've been home from India for a while, but only just settled back at home home, in Wellington. Before that I spent a lovely Christmas in shaky Christchurch. Here's the details about the last part of our trip.

Where I last left off, we'd come close to the end of our time in Mcleodganj. It's a great place - the best place we'd been to in India. Next stop was Dalhousie, an old colonial outpost high in the Himalayas - up to about 2700m or something, on a ridgeline. It had good views over to the mountains of Kashmir, but not much else! It was a quiet few days in its low season, but had some good India food, and some good walks.

On from there was a crazy taxi ride to Pathankot (where we almost got into a head on collision with a truck, while overtaking another truck at double its speed, while wearing no seatbelts). From there we caught a train (two tier AC, the highest class, with only two bunks, rather than three, and no crammed seats) to Amritsar.

Amritsar is right on the border with Pakistan, and home of the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh temples. We stayed right around the corner in the crowded streets surrounding it, and I was lucky enough to go all the way inside, after waiting an hour in the hot sun in a cramped line (nothing Big Day Out wouldn't have prepared me for). It's an amazing place - a calm area within a crowded city, complete with free food and free accommodation, anyone welcome.

On our last night we heard arrhythmic deep booms, sounding like bombs in the distance, presumably coming from Pakistan. But without prior experience of hearing these things in peaceful New Zealand, I can't be 100% sure that's what it was.

Next was back to Delhi for our last few days, where a couple of Raven's friends had just arrived. They shared a private tour with us to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located. We were relieved to get a modern car, with seatbelts in every seat and a sane driver for once.

The Taj Mahal really deserves its status as one of the Wonders of the World. The size and stunning appearance are only half the magic - it's the details which really make it. A perfectly symmetrical building and grounds, the place was built in 22 years, as one of the lucky numbers for Muslims. It has 22 steps up to it, and was built by 22 000 workers (according to our tour guide). The details within the white marble are also astounding, with rocks from around the world embedded in floral patterns gleaming in the sun, and still stuck in just as hard as as when it was built. Voices echo for around 22 seconds inside the main chamber, producing stunning harmonies. 

Interestingly the four minarets surrounding the Taj lean slightly outwards, a design feature incorporated by its Turkish architect to prevent the minarets falling inwards during a large earthquake. And yes, we did get a photo taken on the seat where Princess Diana had her famous photo, and where Sarkozy and Carla Bruni had their photos taken about a week before.

Our last day was spent negotiating Delhi's many touts and auto-rickshaw drivers who wanted to take us to stores we didn't want to go to so that they would get commission. We finally made it to the Lotus Temple, of the Baha'i faith. I like the Baha'is, their religion is about bringing people together, peace and open dialogue, and I have met some really nice ones in Wellington over the last couple of years. The Temple was quite amazing, made out of Indian white marble, like the Taj, but with even more incredible acoustics, which rang with the many harmonies of the prayers being sung as we entered, reminding me of a piano with the damper pedal depressed.

So that was our trip. India's a crazy country, with many place left undiscovered for us (such as the deserts of Rajistan, where we were constantly told to go). To top it all off, we arrived home with a good dose of campylobacter. Luckily we recovered in time to eat all the delicious dinner and desert for Christmas.