Tag Archives: Amazon Kindle

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Go Dark

Do you long for the days of the WarGames-era VDT with the black screen and green type? Or do you just hate the glare of a bright white display? Are you coping with vision difficulties? If so,  your apps and operating system and some of your programs might include settings that make it easier on your eyes.

For example, If you don’t want to flip your whole operating system around, you can often find a dark or night mode setting in many apps — like Microsoft Edge, Twitter for Android and iOS, the Amazon Kindle and Apple’s own iBooks app, and some apps like Waze and Google Maps might flip to the night mode automatically, depending on the time of day. YouTube’s desktop site just added a dark mode, too.

But if you want things more consistently less glaring, Windows 10 has a Dark Mode available in the Settings app, as well as a High Contrast Mode in the Ease of Access controls. Dark Mode doesn’t make everything dark, mainly just the background of certain apps and system screens, but the High Contrast Mode flips the background and changes the colors of several kinds of screen type to make everything stand out better for those who have trouble discerning different tints. Apple’s System Preferences for macOS has similar controls in the Display area of the Accessibility settings.

And don’t worry — if you get tired of dark mode, you can always come back to the light.

PTJ 183 News: Screen Lock and Key

So maybe the Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t need Apple so much after all. The Justice Department postponed this week’s hot court date over that whole “you must unlock this terrorist iPhone” fight they were having with Cook & Co. It seems the DOJ has found someone else it thinks can hack and crack into the iPhone in question. The court date has been rescheduled for April 5th. (And who knows what’s behind that door, as a new report analyzing the November attacks in Paris indicated that the terrorists there were using disposable cellphones and not encryption to communicate.)

imessageApple may be fighting to keep the passcode locked, but researchers at Johns Hopkins University say they’ve found a way to decrypt encrypted iMessages. While this bug in iMessage wouldn’t have helped the FBI with the San Bernardino phone (and Apple released software updates for iOS and OS X this week anyway), the Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that some Apple encryption can be broken.

Despite the postponement of the FBI hearing, Apple’s court calendar is still filling up, though. On Monday this week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s appeal of that patent infringement case a few years back that it lost to Apple over copying the iPhone’s design. Samsung would like to talk more and pay less in this case.

But lest we forget, there was one more bit of Apple News this week: The company held a small-scale event at its headquarters this week to unveil the [no surprise] 4-inch iPhone SE, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, an iOS software update, new Apple Watch bands — and a cheaper price on the Apple Watch itself. Updates on the company’s recycling efforts were also revealed:

Amazon has added a new product to its inventory: package deals for Comcast’s Xfinity television and Internet service. The goods can be found in the new Amazon Cable Store, where special offers for Amazon customers are also touted. On the down side, you have to use Comcast is you sign up.

Amazon Kindle owners also probably saw a lot of panicky stories online this week warning that if they did not update the system software on older Kindle models, those Kindles would not be able to access the Kindle bookstore to buy new books. If you missed the March 22 deadline, you’ll have to plug the Kindle into your computer, download the updates from Amazon’s site and apply those patches manually.

amazonechoOne of Amazon’s other products popped up — and piped up — earlier this month during the broadcast of a National Public Radio story about the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant. As the story unfolded on the radio, with typical NPR sound clips of people on the radio taking to Alexa on their Amazon Echos, one NPR listener said his Alexa reset the home thermostat based on a command it heard on the radio. Another Alexa in the wild began playing an NPR Hourly Summary.  (Just so you know, this was just a test. Once they get the signal from headquarters, all the Alexas will rise up together to overthrow their human oppressors.) Incidentally, Amazon Tap, which looks like it’s basically an Echo you have to touch first, will be available next week.

It’s no secret that Facebook hoovers up gobs of data from its users to help it target advertising, and recent stories show how its ad platform guesses what race a person is based on his or her online behavior. Although Facebook has been offering its its racial profiling, er,  “ethnic affinity” targeting to advertisers since 2014, the Business Insider site illustrated this practice with a story showing how different trailers for the film Straight Outta Compton were pushed out to white viewers, black viewers and Hispanic viewers. Facebook: Never missing a chance to use any of your data to sell you things.

Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday this week. The service stuck up a blog post thanking its users for the first decade and saying “Throughout the years, you’ve made Twitter what it is today and you’re shaping what it will be in the future.” (Let us please not speak of trolls and politicians.)

Hungry? Venerable pizza chain Dominos is testing an automated pizza delivery robot down in New Zealand. It’s called the Domino’s Robotic Unit, or DRU, and it has a 12-mile range, runs on battery power and has compartments for hot and cold food — including storage for up to 10 pizzas.

While America seems to be lurching toward delivery drones, ground-based delivery bots seem to be catching on in other parts of the world, including small six-wheeled vehicles dispensing packages in London this spring.

And finally, also over in England, let us turn to a jolly seafaring tale. If you are unaware of this unfolding story, here it is: The British Natural Environment Research Council thought it would be a good idea to ask the public for help in naming a brand new £200 million ocean-research ship, so it invited the public to participate and began to take online suggestions. While some well-meaning participants put forth the names of scientists or explorers, one gentleman suggested the moniker RSS Boaty McBoatface. Needless to say, that name quickly shot to the top of the polls and the NERC site even crashed from excitement at one point. A spokeswoman for the council said, “We are very much enjoying hearing everyone’s ideas,” but the agency ultimately has the final say in christening the vessel. The contest ends April 16th, so in the meantime, raise a glass of rum and let’s all sing a good shanty for the RSS Boaty McBoatface while it lasts.


Panel Discussion

Digital comics have thankfully been around for several years now, and in that time, they’ve gone from random back issues to full same-day download distribution for some titles. Digital-first or digital-only issues are also available. Some comics now have other bells and whistles that take advantage of tablet and smartphone technology to help tell the story.

So, what else is new lately?

supergirlFor one, ComiXolgy, the sort of Amazon of digital comics that was one of the first big download shops, was actually bought by Amazon last year.  The site’s mobile Comics app — for Android, iOS and Amazon Kindle — is popular. The app’s Guided View feature and wide selection (at least 75,000 titles) are still part of the ComiXology experience. But with Amazon’s acquisition, in-app purchases on the iOS version are no longer possible because Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple a 30% bite of the pie. So iOS users have to select and pay for purchases through the ComiXology website and then download them while logged into an account. This switch upset many iPad readers who dislike the inconvenience and extra steps, so you may see some pretty negative reviews of the app online. You can still get your comics, but it’s not as easy as it used to be with the ComiXology Comics app. Android and Amazon Kindle versions? No problem.

You can also get Android and iOS apps for your favorite publishers: DC Comics and its Vertigo line, Marvel Comics (which also has its Marvel AR app for augmented reality offerings in certain titles), Dark Horse Comics and IDW Publishing, which does comics for a lot of TV shows. And we can’t forget Archie Comics. Third-party comics reader apps are also around.

madefireIf you want comics with a little something more — like motion, soundtracks and light animation, check out the Motion Books in the Madefire storefront app. Motion Books aren’t videos of comics, but technology enhanced digital books that use music, sound effects, parallax views and animated objects within the frame to build the story. Madefire has apps for many screens, and you can also look at comics on your television with its apps for set-top boxes like Android TV and now the new fourth-generation Apple TV. Madefire also makes its Motion Book software available to indie comics creators through the deviantArt website.

Don’t like the Bam! Pow! Pop! stuff? Check out the Sequential app for iOS, which specializes in indie and alternative books. As it says on the Sequential website, “We don’t do superheroes. You can get them in a lot of other places.”

Why, yes. Yes, you can.

PTJ 118: Get Off Our Lawn, Google

J.D. will help you get to your destination by plane, train or automobile as she runs down some useful travel apps just in time for the power eating U.S. holiday known as Thanksgiving.

El Kaiser finally gets an invitation to Google Inbox and…let’s just say things don’t go smoothly.

In the news the European Space Agency is still on comet duty;  AT&T gets called out by the FCC; the Federal Trade Commission has settles a score with TRUSTe; the US State Department gets hacked;  New York City plans to convert payphones into spiffy hotspots; Facebook continues spinning off features of its service; Disney partners with Walmart’s Vudu streaming service; and Google and Stanford University work on software that uses artificial intelligence to create descriptive photo captions.

Oh, and KaiserNet is finally active… MUAH HA HA HA!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

If Thanksgiving is next week, you can bet your sweet bippy it’s time for the Pop Tech Jam roundup of sites and services to make your journey home for the holidays slightly less tense. Whether you’re going air, rail or highway, here are some apps to consider ahead of Big Food Thursday.

Navigating flight schedules, airport delays and other joys of modern domestic air travel this season? You can get mobile boarding passes and other tools from your airline’s app (and text alerts  if anything affects your flight), but a good all-around air-travel app can help you track other flights besides your own. There are plenty to choose from — including Flight Aware, FlightTrack or FlightStats — for Android and iOS, and FlightAware also works on Windows Phone and Windows 8. The Flight Update line of travelware works for iOS devices. The Kayak mobile app, which can book flights, as well as track them, is also available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone and the Amazon Kindle Fire.

If your journey home involves a locomotive of some kind, you have plenty of programs to handle schedules, travel alerts and often, tickets. The national rail company, Amtrak, has its own app, as do the major rail lines for the New York City area — including the Metropolitan Transit Authority (for the NYC subway and bus system), Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road.

If you’re sticking along the Northeast corridor, New Jersey Transit has an app for mobile tickets and information. If you’re in the Philly area, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has apps for Android and iOS. Farther north, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has apps and an online trip planner for those in the Boston area; Washington’s Metro has a similar site. The transit systems for Chicago and San Francisco have mobile options listed on their respective sites. Want an app or mobile site that can handle different mass-transit systems? Try and the Embark or HopStop.

There’s nothing like the hell of holiday traffic, but with the right app, you may be able to get a heads-up before you get stuck in a maddening mass of highway congestion (or as many call it, I-95). Several popular apps use real-time crowd-sourcing along with other data to map out the road ahead, so check out Inrix, Waze or Beat the Traffic if you want to see what’s between you and your destination. For another angle, there’s Traffic Cam Viewer for Android or iOS, which taps into Internet-connected highway cameras for a bird’s-eye view of the road. And if you’ve got a long trip with a few stops along the way for bio-breaks and leg-stretching, apps like Road Ninja and iExit tell you want to expect at the end of each interstate off-ramp you pass.

On the road — but not doing the driving yourself? Check your local bus line for mobile offerings. Nationally, Greyhound, Trailways, the Bolt Bus and MegaBus have schedules, service advisories and other info online.

These are just a few of the hundreds of travel-related apps out there. Odds are, you may already have one or more if them loaded up on your device to help ease some of the uncertainly of travel. You don’t need that extra stress — after all, you’ll probably get enough of that from the family once you get there.

Safe travels.

PTJ 112: Get Your Anti-Grav Boots On Cuz It’s SPACE WEEK

It’s our favorite time of year. No, not fall. It’s Space Week and J.D. introduces us to some apps that are perfect for getting into that festive…um…spacey mood.

Before the PTJ crew blast off into the Cosmos, El Kaiser breaks out the rant box. Apple’s iOS 8 has frosted his rage cake and he wants you all to know about it.

In the news, banking giant JPMorgan Chase gets hacked; AT&T confirmed information is compromised, but it’s an inside job; BBC World News premieres a six-part series focusing on cybercrime; Twitter sues U.S. government over surveillance laws; after getting complaints from customers and the FCC Verizon ditches its “network optimization” plan; a Netflix competitor throws in the towel; and a Kano unveils a new computer you build and code yourself.

PTJ 112 News: Kano a Kano

spearThe Hacking O’ the Giant Corporations continues! Last week, banking giant JPMorgan Chase admitted 76 million households were affected by a data breach this past summer and contact information was compromised. If you have a Chase account, expect the customary spear-phishing campaign trying to wheedle more of your info and report the phish if it happens. This week, AT&T confirmed personal information from its customers was compromised by an unauthorized employee in August. Also in security news, Yahoo is downplaying reports of a security breach to some of its systems, but says the Shellshock vulnerability was not the cause.

If the steady increase in cybercrime has you worried and you want to be more educated on how the Dark Side works, check out a new six-part series coming later this month on the BBC World News channel. The show, called Cybercrimes with Ben Hammersly, was produced in partnership with The Open University and Tern TV and debuts here Friday, October 31st. (How appropriate.) And in Vanity Fair this week, Jennifer Lawrence, a hacking victim herself, has something to say about last month’s iCloud heist of her personal photos.

Technology companies and the federal government are going back and forth over privacy, user rights and related matters. The US Justice Department had a court filing saying a federal agent could legally impersonate a woman and create a Facebook page in her name — complete with her own personal pictures — without telling her about it. That woman sued the DEA agent in federal district court for violating her privacy and putting her in danger.

twitterTwitter is suing the federal government over surveillance laws. The company filed the suit in the District Court of Northern California on Tuesday. Twitter says government regulations are blocking it from being completely transparent with its users over the full scope of surveillance they’re under, so the company is suing. Twitter is not alone in fighting government requests for user information, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are also dealing with it. As the BBC notes, Apple just encrypts its users data.

While the telecom companies are all trying to merge with each other, the tech companies are spinning apart. This week Hewlett-Packard says it plans to split itself into two different public companies within the next year.

Verizon, after getting quite a bit of flack from its customers and a note from the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has decided not to implement its network optimization measures — or as some called it, the Throttling Plan for the heaviest unlimited-data users on its 4G LTE networks during peak congestion times. (Verizon and Redbox also gave up on the Redbox Instant streaming service this week.).

wpWhen Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, some industry watchers wondered how long it would be before its content turned up as a fancy Kindle app. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, a new WaPo app and will be coming soon as a preinstalled app on some Fire tablets.

This just in from the Boomerang Bureau: A few weeks after a kerfuffle where it said people had to use their real names, Facebook is said to be working on an app that lets you be totally anonymous.

Apple is expected to announce new iPads on October 16th says the Re/Code site who as usual, gets wind of these things before anybody else. According to reports, the iPad Air 2 will incorporate the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, A8 processor and gold-finish option already found in Apple’s iPhone hardware. Apple’s iOS 8 software has been out for a little more than three weeks at this point, but user adoption of the new system seems to have flatlined at around 47 percent. The MacRumors site has been looking into this.

Samsung is not having a good week. First off, the International Trade Commission is looking into allegations by Nvidia that several Samsung cellphones and tables contain graphics technology that infringes on its patents. And Samsung itself is warning investors that its third-quarter earnings are going to be disappointing due to lower-selling smartphone prices.

Adobe released a whole bunch of new or revamped apps for iOS devices this week and they are free if you have a Creative Cloud subscription; you can also get them in the App Store, where they also offer $2 in-app upgrades to add Creative Cloud storage.

And finally, if you want to get your kid into computers in a very physical way, check out Kano. It’s a $150 snap-together kit that includes a Raspberry Pi board, a speaker you assemble yourself, an orange keyboard and a storybook that explains how to put it all together with a spare monitor. But the learning doesn’t end there — once the screen is in place, the young wizard can then learn basic coding by making modifications in popular games like Minecraft and Pong. And please children, when you learn to code, please write some decent security into your programs.


Digital Ink, Inc.

selfpubSo, you think have the Great American Novel just bursting to get out, family recipes that would make a great cookbook or just a manifesto you’ve been mulling. What do you need to get started with e-book self-publishing?

First, you need to write the book. So write it. And do yourself and your readers a favor and have someone else proofread — and maybe even edit — the manuscript before you self-publish.  Readers notice mistakes like typos and bad punctuation, and if they get annoyed enough by excessive mistakes, they write bad reviews on Web sites — which won’t be good for sales.

Once you get that book written, proofed and edited, you need to find a place to distribute and sell it. Before you sign up with any self-publishing service, be sure to read the legal fine print concerning ownership of the work, royalty payments and other matters. It’s always good to know what you’re getting into.

As for the selling-of-the-book-and-making-money part of the adventure, you have many avenues. For example, Barnes & Noble just transformed its PUBIt service into the NOOK Press self-publishing platform. To use the service, you need to go to sign up for an account. After that, you can edit for format your existing manuscript, create new works and collaborate with others. Once you get your book done, you can sell it right on the Barnes & Noble site, where people with Nook e-readers and apps can buy it. The NOOK Press service is free to use, but once you put your book up for sale, Barnes & Noble takes a cut, which is common among e-book publishers.

Depending on the publishing site and service you use, your cut of the profits could be anywhere from 40- to 70-percent of the book’s selling price. Again, read the fine print before jumping in.

If you want to publish your book on Amazon as well (or instead), you can use the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. You need an Amazon account to get started with that service, but there your e-book is put up for sale for Kindle tablets and e-readers as well as Kindle apps. Publishing can take as little as takes five minutes and your book shows up for sale on Amazon within 24 hours. If you want to explore the option of self-publishing a print edition, Amazon also owns the CreateSpace independent publishing service as well.

If you’re doing a picture, multimedia or textbook — and want to sell it mostly to iPad owners — there’s the free iBooks Author program for Mac OS X. With this iBooks Author, you get templates for creating your own interactive books and you can sell the finished creation in the iBookstore. You need an account with Apple to sell your books there and you should check out the iBooks Author Frequently Asked Questions and support pages so you can read up before you sign up.

Beyond the Big Three here, you have smaller self-publishing sites like Smashwords and Lulu as well. So if you’ve got something to say, write it down, format it and sell it — it e-book self-publishing could be one of those great do-it-yourself projects that creative and financial fulfillment if people find and like your work. And it’s a way easier path to bestsellerdom than printing the book yourself and selling copies out of the trunk of your car.