Monday, January 17, 2011

How I learned to stop worrying and love the eReader

3rd Generation Kindle

As most of you know either by being a friend, relative or acquaintance of mine or by the amount of geeky tech posts that appear on my blog, I do not eschew technology and am oftentimes an early-adopter of anything I can afford. However, the eReader represented a hurdle over which I was not yet committed to jump. I graduated with a double major in English lit and history and have a rich appreciation for books. I do not quite border on bibliophilia (Colin!) but I love the weight, smell and intimacy of a book. Having backpacked a number of times, there is a bond of companionship which grows between the dead weight and the reader. I have unpacked clothes and other items to get the weight of luggage down to cart around books here and there and I have never regretted it.

Needless to say I was leery of electronic formatted books for a number of reasons. The biggest speculation of mine concerned battery life, "the day my book tells me it's dead and I can't read it when I wish is the day I give up on life," I recall telling a friend. Secondly, I benefited enormously from the book exchange that took place while I was in the Peace Corps, which made books more valuable than, say cheese or peanut butter. Books are, while travelling, a currency in and of themselves. So the obvious issue of transferability presentes itself immediately to a) those who don't have an eReader and b) the books which have encryption so they are not transferrable anyway.

There were some obvious benefits that finally made up my mind to try out the Amazon Kindle, third generation. Living in Korea with, for lack of a better description, a 


 of English books made the idea of having a library of thousands of titles from which to choose very appealing. I knew my parents and brother would appreciate it, not having to ship me books upon request. Moreover, having any of those titles within 60 seconds of purchase made planning out what I would read months in advance a thing of the past.

I looked into the Amazon Kindle simply because a friend of mine here in Korea has one and I got a hands-on as well as it being the only reader that enables purchasing books abroad. The Kindle I bought has both 3G and wifi. The 3G works in over 100 countries, including South Korea and I suppose North Korea if you stand close enough to the DMZ. Regardless, the Kindle is the obvious choice for the international traveler.

The battery life has bowled me over. Advertised as having a battery life of one month, I felt reassured that it wouldn't die on me at any given moment. On the contrary, I read the unabridged entirety of

The Count of Monte Cristo

, a 1,300 page tome, on one battery charge. Good enough for me.

And finally, as for the portability of the book files themselves, there is a simple hack. Within the limits of the DMCA, one can run a python script to unlock their legally purchased books. This does not solve the issue of passing on books to someone who does not have an eReader, but it makes the prospect (which I do not condone for legal reasons) of sharing a book with a friend with an eReader much easier. There is

Kindle software

that can open the unlocked books on Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPod, Android, Blackberry, et. all and allow someone to read the book on any of the supported devices, for those without an eReader.

For the easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to unlocking the book files, please see below.

Unlocking Kindle Books

If you wish to exercise your rights within the DMCA and unlock the DRM copy protection of your Kindle books to read on other devices, please refer to this very helpful website. It is difficult to amass the software required for the project so I have collected the publicly available software into one convenient package at this link. It is important to follow the steps mentioned in the above-linked article, however they do fail to mention that you need the beta version of the Kindle software for PC. Once installed, it is imperative that you open the application, go to the settings and turn off automatic updates as more recent versions of this software break the unlocking script. If you choose to download the software from my link, you can ignore the site's directions on finding and installing everything.

Update: There is a great Google Chrome utility that sends an article from your browser to your kindle in one click, reformatted to compliment the screen of the kindle. I just installed it and it's pretty slick!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Trip to the Hospital - A Hypochondriac's Tale

Thursday morning I felt my heart swell and a rush of fluid throughout my body while watching Seinfeld. This was not the typical physical response elicited from Jerry and the gang but I brushed it off and blamed it on the grilled cheese, which usually does inspire a rush of endorphins, couch potato that I am. But throughout the course of the day, my body began to tremor more and more intensely, my pulse rising exponentially.
I thought it might have been the two cups of french press coffee I had had on an empty stomach that morning, the half stick of butter I had consumed that week in making said grilled cheeses, the petroleum in the only cheese available in town, or the stress at school or my uneasiness about going back to the Philippines come January 22nd.
Anyway, I decided I would sleep it off and skip coffee in the morning. Later Friday afternoon, I took my pulse and my heart was still beating at about 130-140 beats per minute, no improvement and I had restricted my diet extensively to crackers and sandwiches. That evening, I asked my coteacher, Mr. Do, to take me to the Andong hospital in the morning, to which he responded in the affirmative.
Andong is about 40 minutes away and the hospital was ranked first in the country in terms of cleanliness and customer service.
Indeed, the customer service was apparent. Men and women wearing yellow sashes stood throughout the hospital helping people find where they needed to go. The computer system forwarded each interaction at each desk to the succeeding desk with a full description of what had happened prior to that desk kept wait times and interviews to a minimum.
Within 10 minutes of arriving, the desk clerk at the cardiology department input my insurance information, took my blood pressure, directed us to sit down and then showed us to the doctor. The doctor, who spoke decent English, prescribed me a chest x-ray, heart sonogram and to wear a machine (seen above) for 24 hours to monitor for irregular patterns in my heart beat. We went from office to office for each test and waited no longer than five minutes at each station. The staff was helpful and friendly. After leaving the hospital with what felt like an octopus strapped to my chest, I received a text from the hospital asking if I had had a pleasant experience.
Oh, and by the way, my insurance here doesn't cover heart issues so I had to pay out of pocket. And how much did it cost? Are you sitting down? A mere $200 for the doctor visit, sonogram, two x-rays and the device with a followup visit for the results. I love the medical system in this country.
Monday morning I noticed my heart rate go down (way down) to 60-70 bpms (normal).
Anyway, I got the results this morning and the doctor said my heart size and patters are completely regular and there is nothing perceivably wrong. I think I'll just chock it up to a panic attack. I am quite nervous about going back to the Philippines, having some ghosts there to put to rest and am stressed at school, not to mention living in a country that is still technically at war and where I can't understand anything. It's feasible.  So now I have resolved to go on regular walks (which last about an hour) and eat lots of stir-fried veggies for dinner (I just discovered our grocer has broccoli!).