Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Velocity Cruz Android 2.0 tablet

 

We all know about the Kindle and the forthcoming Kindle Fire. We also know about the iPad and the tsunami of tablets converging on the market. I was curious about some of these gadgets, and I had the opportunity to do some shopping for a relative's birthday this weekend. After a lot of comparing, I chose the T103 Cruz by Velocity, based on a combination of features and price. I purchased this particular Android tablet on sale for about $89 from Tiger Direct's Amazon storefront.    


Features:

    Full color TFT display
    7” diagonal 16:9 800x480 screen
    Capacitive touch screen – ultra responsive!
    Android 2.0
    512MB RAM
    4GB AND 8GB bundled SD cards
    Supports PDF, TXT, HTML reader files
    MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV audio support
    MPEG-4, H.264, H.263, MOV, AVI video support
    JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP image support
    802.11n wifi
    Built in speakers
    Microphone
    Headphone jack
    Mini USB
    Li-Ion battery - up to 10+ hours of life, 24+ standby
    Dimensions: 7.5"x 4.75"x .6"

Pros:
Of immediate note is the battery life of 10+ hours. At this point, we don't have a full 10 hours on the device but the battery life is definitely holding up. After several hours of use both Saturday night and throughout Sunday, the battery is still at 50% capacity. Most of this time was spent surfing the internet and watching YouTube movies (the proud recipient of this device is a 12 year-old boy). The video and sound on this thing are crystal clear! I was amazed by the quality of video. The 7 inch back-lit display left me in awe; it's perfectly suited for the type of video you find on the internet, probably producing a higher quality image than a desktop monitor due to the small screen.

The wifi setup was quick and painless. Email was a bit trickier but still not difficult, once I understood the menu interface. Being an Andriod system, the menu button brings up options on just about every screen, from the home screen to the various addons and apps. A number of apps come preinstalled, including email, internet, app store, a notepad and an office suite. I must also mention that this is a capacitive touch screen(like an iPhone), which is fast becoming the standard. You can smoothly navigate the menus and apps with a touch, and you can also flip the pages of your e-books by sliding your finger across the edge of the screen. The display also turns automatically when you rotate the tablet side to side, or even upside down, and it has similar zoom and scroll features to what you'd find on an Android or iPhone.

Obviously, the pros of a device like this are many. The color touchscreen is gorgeous and provides most of the functionality we've come to expect from much higher priced devices. Battery life is phenomenal so far. The built-in 500 megabytes of memory are supplemented by two SD cards with an additional 12 gigs of storage space! Sound and video are good, setup is easy and intuitive, and features abound. It can play and store music and movies as well as e-books, and can run numerous e-book apps (I installed the Kindle app right away and it works just fine).
 
The cons:

    With all the features and accessories for this device, for some reason the manufacturer chose not to to include a paper manual. This is a minor inconvenience since the manual is available in electronic format in the apps menu... if you can figure out how to operate the menu system and then locate the strangely titled app. (Couldn't they just call it the Owner's Manual, or something similarly obvious?)

    Start-up is surprisingly slow. I expected it to turn right on like a cell phone or any other electronic device that doesn't have a hard drive, but no, this thing takes forty-five seconds to start up. 

Obviously this $100 (or less) tablet doesn't come with 3g or any other cellular network. (That may be a con to some, but in my opinion this type of device doesn't need it. Why pay $40 a month for a digital plan when most of us are rarely more than a few minutes away from wifi? And for those times we are away, we've got 12 gigs of storage. That's a lot of music, video, and e books.)

    Daylight, full-sun viewing: Ain't gonna happen. This is a backlit screen, and in this aspect it's inferior to the Kindle's e-ink. Surfing the internet or checking your email under these circumstances will be tough, and this is NOT how you want to read a book. The screen glare is horrible in sunlight. There may be screen accessories on the market to improve this problem, but I still don't think the experience would compare to the Kindle's simple, elegant screen.

Summary:

This technology is amazing and is certain to change the world. We can purchase a device with this capability for less than $100, and that price is only going down. That said, a tablet like this is not a PC, or even a laptop. This device is awesome for surfing the internet and entertainment, but I wouldn't want to write 100,000 words on it. Or even 10,000. As cool as it is, its not a replacement for a laptop, nor is it a replacement for a Kindle if you're an avid reader. The true Constant Reader will want a device that can download books as well as display them anywhere, under any circumstances. The fact that you need shade to use this device knocks it out of that competition for a lot of people.

If you're looking for something with vast functionality, a sort of electronic jack-of-all-trades, this or a similar device may be for you. Kids will LOVE these. However, if you're looking for a device specifically for reading, you may find the Kindle to be a more appropriate purchase.

I'll give the Cruz a few weeks and update this review. I'll be taking note of things like battery life, performance, and (hopefully) consistent functionality. I'll also be looking for a chance to try out a Kindle Fire and compare features.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Death of Publishing

  I've never been one to cheer on the death of the  publishing industry. I've questioned their policies and I've wondered about their business practices, but it has always been my dream to walk into a bookstore and see my books on the shelf. Over the last few years, I've watched mystified as they shunned their own midlist authors and closed their doors to new writers. I've watched them completely ignore espresso printing machines that can sit in a bookstore and print on demand any book you want in less than ten minutes. I've watched them do their best to destroy this new electronic e-book medium. Instead of opening their doors and giving everyone a shot (ultimately allowing only the best sellers to reach print) they've shut their doors entirely and overpriced digital books, in many cases even more than their paper counterparts.

In April of 2009, Mary Walters wrote a blog post that was something of an open letter to literary agents and publishers. This post set the internet aflame at the time. I remember reading seething responses on a number of agents' websites, followed by page after page of comments agreeing with everything the agents had to say. Of course, in those days you had to follow an agent's blog if you ever hoped for that agent to read your submission, thereby giving it a chance to get to an editor at a publishing house. Agents didn't actually say that you had to kiss butt, but the implication was there and nobody did anything to downplay the idea. After all, if an agent says you must read and comment on my blog, research my preferences, and mention these things when you submit to me, that agent is clearly fishing for something other than great writers.

If you take a look at her bio, Mary is an award winning writer who has published books traditionally and served as Editor in Chief for a legacy publisher. The publishing world looked different a few years ago, and Mary made this post at no small peril to her own career. In those days the e-book was really just a fledgling idea and no one was really making money at it. Careers were both made and destroyed by those we once called the gatekeepers. You may know them as 'literary agents.' Here's a sampling of what Mary said:


"...I am a member of a growing company of writers of literary fiction whose works you have never seen and probably never will.It’s not that we are lacking in the talent and credentials that might attract your interest: indeed, we have already published one or two or three books with respectable literary presses, attracting not only critical acclaim but even awards for writing excellence. Our work has been hailed as distinctive, thoughtful, darkly comic. As fresh. Even as important! Reviewers have compared us to Atwood, Boyle and Seth. To Tyler, Winton, Le Carre.That you have never heard of us nor read a single paragraph we’ve written is not—as you might think—a side effect of the cutbacks, mergers and downsizings that have devastated the book-publishing industry in recent months. Nor is it yet more evidence of the impact of electronic media on the printed word.
No.
The substantial and nearly unassailable wall that separates you from us has been under construction for decades. You can find the names of its architects and gatekeepers on your telephone-callers list, and in your email in-box. They are the literary agents—that league of intellectual-property purveyors who bring you every new manuscript you ever see, those men and women who are so anxious to gain access to the caverns of treasure they believe you sit upon like some great golden goose that they would likely hack one another’s heads off were they not united by one self-serving mission: to ensure that quality fiction never hits your desk..."

 Writers are still adding new comments to this post, and no wonder. It seems a lot of people got tired of playing the waiting game with agents who were too busy blogging and taking month-long vacations to respond to their submissions. It was that bad, and even worse. The internet is still of complaints about how agents signed authors and then ignored them, how agents made them jump through hoops revising again and again only to finally reject the finished work, or agents who never bothered to respond at all. These same agents who required writers to research them, read and comment on their blogs, and address their submissions by name, could not be bothered to respond at all. In some cases, they couldn't even be bothered to respond to writers who they were contracted with.

A few days ago, Kristine Kathryn Rusch made a similar post, this time regarding the practices of publishing house editors.  Kristine is another award winning and incredibly prolific writer (numerous genres and pseudonyms), and says:

"In the past two days, two different editors have told me that I don’t know how publishing works. One deigned to explain to me how something in book production worked when I questioned a scheduling problem in the publishing house. The other told me I had no idea how to write a good book in my genre...
I probably wouldn’t be this mad if it weren’t for the other editors who have treated me this way. The mystery editor with two years experience who told me—an Edgar-nominated, multiple-EQMM reader’s choice winner, and a bestselling mystery writer—that I don’t know the mystery genre. The agent who told me—the award-winner in every genre I’ve tried including mainstream—that I don’t write well enough to publish a novel into the mainstream.  The sf editor who told me—the bestselling, Hugo-award-winning editor & writer—that I don’t know what science fiction is. The unreturned phone calls, the unanswered important emails, the unfulfilled promises, and the lies.
I’m really tired of the lies."

Ouch. I can only shake my head when I read stories like this. It seems that publishing houses think they're too big to fail. I guess that's easy to believe if you also believe you're just selling paper. Problem is, that's not true. There is a degree of skill and creative talent involved in the creation of a novel, and now some of those pesky authors have decided to work for themselves. Agents are turning into publishers and authors are turning into publishers and publishers are turning into... what?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wine Country Update and Seasonal Wrap-up

Well, it's that time of year, as the image to the left shows. I took this picture a few days ago. At the time I had just racked my first ever batch of Chardonnay. For the non-initiated, that means that after my wine finished fermenting, I allowed the dead yeast and 'lees' to settle to the bottom of the fermenter, and then I transferred the wine into clean containers to rest and age. I have about 5 1/2 gallons of chardonnay, which will make about 25 bottles when it's ready.

I also have 1 1/2 gallons of wine I made from wild california grapes (vitis californica) which I found growing along the riverbanks. That batch was high in acid and low in sugar, but with a few adjustments I think it might turn out okay. Next to that, I have two gallons of pear-mead, thanks to my sister's vigorous pear tree. That was from earlier this summer and I think it's almost ready to bottle :-)

And now the best part... tomorrow, I'm scheduled to go pick up 250 lbs. of Cabernet grapes. Cab has been trouble the last couple of years. It's the last grape to finish, and between the late frosts, early rain, and generally cooler summers, Cab has suffered. Anybody who tells you different is lying. 2010-2011 Cabs will only be good based on the experience and skill of the winemaker, presuming they came from NorCal. A few vineyards  with good sun and high altitude might skate by with little damage, but as of last week local vintners were scrambling to pull the Malbec and Petit grapes before they exploded. Literally. That's what happens when the grapes are almost ripe and then we get rain. They swell up like water balloons and explode when you touch them. Or look at them. Or walk by.

Anyway, the weather has warmed this last week, creeping up into the low 80's. Hopefully, that will be enough to put my grapes in the right sugar/acid balance so I don't have to fuss with them too much. If all goes well, my 250 pounds of grapes might turn into 75+ bottles (I know, small play but I'm working up to a full barrel). So wish me luck!

So, as of October 2011, here's the damage (both in wine and text):

Vino:

2 Gallons Strawberry Wine
1 1/2 Gallons Blackberry Wine
1 1/2 Gallons Wildvine Wine
2 Gallons Pear-mead
5 1/2 Gallons Chardonnay (skin-fermented)
15-20 Gallons Cabernet Sauvignon (coming soon!)

Literature:

5 Novels published
1 Anthology published
2 Shorts published individually

3 Novels written (two in revision for late 2011 publication, one on hold until the time is right)

Plans:

By the end of the year I'd like to finish one more book, but I'm torn about what to write. I could work on the sequel to Tinkerer, which would be the logical step since Tinkerer is far and away my best seller, but I'd like to work on a sequel to Murder in the Boughs, even though the first book isn't pubbed yet and I have no how the public will receive it. Yeah, I know what my agent would say right now, but I don't have an agent. So do I follow my heart, or do I follow the $$$? Can I do both? We'll see how the year pans out.

I hope the rest of you are enjoying your autumn, and I hope you're ready for the holiday season... it's almost here!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hank Mossberg, Private Ogre...

Coming this fall:
 


Mike Hammer meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Jamie Sedgwick’s new mystery, “Murder in the Boughs.” Hank Mossberg is a hardboiled San Francisco detective with his feet in two very different worlds. The first is the gritty concrete jungle, where Hank’s unique skills allow him to track down the city’s most notorious criminals, some of whom the police can’t or won’t even believe in. The other is the undercity, the hidden side of San Francisco where elven mobsters rule the underworld, nymphs walk darkened streets, imps are slave traders, and gnomes are elite hackers. 

Hank’s troubles begin when he stumbles onto a briefcase full of the illicit drug known as “pixie dust.” Hank thinks he finally has the evidence to bring down the notorious Kaiser gang, but when the gang’s leader, a high-elven kingpin known as Anthony Kaiser is murdered, it’s Hank’s job to solve the crime. Then Hank gets an urgent call from a desperate mother whose daughter has been kidnapped. But the kidnapper is no ordinary criminal, and even Hank’s unique skills might not be enough to bring the girl home.


 Murder in the Boughs will be available soon. Also coming this year, Shadow Born, part two: Shadow Rising.

To get a free advance release preview of my upcoming titles, sign up for my newsletter! In the meanwhile, stay tuned here for more news!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Amazon sets the e-book world on Fire



Unless you've been living under a rock, you know about Amazon's latest gadget, the Kindle Fire. Amazon announced this beauty a few days ago and since then the internet's been burning up with speculation about how this will affect the tablet business, e-books, media devices, and more specifically the Apple iPad.

I can only speculate (just like everyone else) as to how this will work, but here are my thoughts:

First, this gadget is cool. It's everything I want that a Kindle is not. It has a full color screen, and full media capabilities. It also has a touchscreen, and it has wifi. That means I can access Amazon's content just about anywhere, as long as I'm near a coffee shop, McDonald's, or a town square. Some reviewers have already bemoaned the lack of 3G. Okay, fair enough. These people don't want convenience, they want more. Being able to access the internet just about anywhere is convenient. Being able to access it anywhere, all the time, is more than convenient. And frankly, it's more than 3G provides.

For $199 bucks, that's something I'm willing to accept. I don't need to download a movie or e-book from the top of a mountain. I'll download it before I go and save an extra $600 or so over buying an iPad. I'll also save $50 a month on the data plan they've been trying to force down my throat, thank you very much.

The Kindle Fire runs an Android operating system which means it will run apps, and Amazon will have a convenient app store waiting for you. Here's another cool feature. Note the book covers lined up on the screen below, almost like a bookshelf. Full color and magnificent, almost real books on an almost real shelf. You touch them and scroll back and forth, allowing you to view your entire library with a touch of your finger, or shop for new titles just as easily. That's pretty cool.



What more can you do, besides read books, magazines, and comic books? You can listen to music, watch movies, surf the internet, and no doubt play games. There's no telling where this will go but in my opinion, the $199 price point and the extreme value of this personal media device mean that iPad may be in trouble. Eventually. Check out this quote from the Harvard Business Review:

"...for a relatively lengthy time period, both Amazon and Apple will thrive. But at the same time, both will be improving their products. Apple will continue to pump out more powerful, often higher-priced, tablets... Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire will improve as well — coming to be able to perform ever more of the functions that an iPad can perform at a significantly lower price point... At that point, it will be too late for Apple to respond and the tablet market leader will no longer be Apple. It will be Amazon.

"Students of disruptive innovation have seen this phenomenon play out in numerous industries: steel, disk drives, microchips, computers, automobiles, retail, music recordings, and aerospace to name a few. And the initial symptom is always the same — a competitor enters the market with an "inferior" product offering that the incumbent player simply refuses to worry about..."


Is Apple going to get in front of this and do something about it? It's hard to say, but there's a lot of skepticism out there. I've lost count of the articles and commentary I've read over the last few days claiming this device is a failure and that it can never compete with the iPad. Are they right? I don't know. But I know which one I'm buying.


And the ear-shattering question that nobody seems to be asking? How will this affect the paper book market?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dark Shadows



 I have a hard time keeping up on the news about upcoming movies, especially since Hollywood has finally realized that good fantasy and horror can draw an audience and therefore it seems every studio must release a new genre film every few months, at most. The latest news that snuck up on me: living legends Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have teamed up once again, this time in a film remake of the 60's Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.

It appears that the release date for this film has already been changed once or twice (no surprise with Depp working on Pirates of the Caribbean films) but IMDB now shows the release date as May, 2012. As with every Burton flick, an entire cast of wonderful actors will work alongside Depp, including: Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass and others), Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter films, etc.), Christopher Lee, and the gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer.

I've been aware of this old TV series for a long time, but I don't think I've ever watched an episode, which is probably unusual considering I love vampire films and monster movies. I have a collection of old films on DVD that includes all of the old black & white Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man movies, including the sequels and most of the remakes. I have the entire Blade series on DVD, including the TV show. Also, The Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned, and the Dracula 2000 movie with Johnny Lee Miller, who's also in the Dark Shadows cast. I could go on but I think you get the point. I've even considered writing some vampire fiction, though lately I've been consumed by my fantasy writing and since vampires have become so... sparkly lately, I'm not sure my book ideas would sell right now.

I think I was probably dissuaded from watching the series by the angst and drama of soaps in general, in which it can take forever for anything to happen and most of the efforts towards tension and conflict are quite poorly done. I don't know. I suppose I'm going to have to go look up the series on Netflix or Hulu and watch it all now. Thanks, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. I think.

Cineplex Movie Blog

Dark Shadows News