Game Changer – E-P1

In the last few decades we have seen many ground breaking new products that were really “game changers”. That is, they changed the way we do and accomplish something; they changed our habits and many times the design of all the similar products after that game changer. Indeed, they were probably not the best products in the market when they were first introduced, but their visions (and their disruptive technologies) made all their supporters believed that the world was not the same anymore.

The Kindle 2 plus the Amazon books and the Whispernet distribute network is one good example, it essentially change the way I read books. Another example is the iPhone from Apple that basically change the way how a mobile phone (and mobile applications) shall work, look and feel. Yet other one is the Mirrorless Single Lens camera of Olympus and Panasonic (they call it the Micro Four Third system). With already five camera bodies in the past year and a handful of lens, it provides one extremely good DSLR alternative to all photography lovers.

I am a SLR user since 1980 but my current favorite camera is the Olympus E-P1. It’s small, light-weight (but yet with a very solid feeling), stylish, and feature rich. More importantly, it takes photographs as good as many heavy, bulky digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. I still possess two DSLR bodies with numerous lens and accessories but frankly I seldom use them right now, as I can take my E-P1 with me anytime but not the two DSLRs.

Other than the physical appeal, another good reason to use E-P1 is it basically bring back all the fun of photography. I still have full control of my pictures by changing the ISO, aperture, shutter speed easily, but I can also apply many visual effects to the photos via the Art Filters. For examples, the following two photos were taken via the Black & White “Grainy Film” art filters to create a very special mood of Sydney.

Is Micro Four Third the best camera system every created ? No. Is E-P1 the best camera in the world ? No. Is it the most affordable camera in the market ? No. But the camera and its system provide me all the convenience, picture quality and fun I need NOW.

Indeed, the world is not the same anymore.

Sydney Opera House

Circular Quay

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Kindle 2 firmware update to read PDF files

Amazon released the latest firmware update (version 2.3) for Kindle yesterday (2009-November-24), and couple of new features are extremely important and exciting for Kindle 2 users. Here are the details as well as the steps, findings.

New firmware features for Kindle 2

  1. Longer battery life for Kindle (International version): You can now read for up to 1 week on a single charge with wireless on. Turn wireless off and read for up to 2 weeks (i.e .the same as before).
  2. Built-in PDF reader: Your Kindle can now display PDF documents without losing the formatting of the original file (it works but not all files, see below).
  3. Manual screen rotation: The Kindle screen can now manually rotate between portrait and landscape views so you can see the entire width of a web page or magnify the page of a PDF file. The page-turn buttons work the same in either orientation, and the 5-way controller movements are switched to match the orientation. (See more below)
  4. Option to convert PDF files to Kindle format. If you prefer to have your personal PDF documents converted to the Kindle format (so that they can reflow), type “Convert” in the subject of the e-mail when you submit your personal document to your @kindle.com address. (I don’t see any difference on the Convert feature, but will test more)

Upgrade your Kindle 2 firmware, wirelessly

  1. First of all, some preparations – make sure you have a fully charged Kindle 2, unless your Kindle 2 is connecting to your computer. Check the current version of the firmware (go to “Home”, press “Menu”, select “Settings” and check the bottom of the page). If the version number is 2.2 or lower, you shall upgrade to the latest version to enjoy the new features.
  2. If you want to apply the new firmware manually (e.g. you don’t have access to the wireless network), check out the steps recommended by Amazon in their support page.
  3. Now, turn on the wireless connection (go to “Home”, press “Menu”, select “Turn Wireless On”), then select “Sync & Check for items”. It will then take 15, 20 minutes to download the new firmware as well as checking any new books to download.
  4. Once it finished to download the top bar of your Kindle may show “No new items” – it just means there is no new books to download, but your new firmware may has already downloaded. You can check it to see whether there is a new item in the menu – go to “Home”, press “Menu”, check if there is a new item “Update your Kindle”. If yes, then your new firmware is downloaded.
  5. Now select “Update your Kindle”, your Kindle will apply the firmware and restart the device. Another a few minutes, your Kindle is upgraded. Again, check the firmware version to see if it is version 2.3 (go to “Home”, press “Menu”, select “Settings” and check the bottom of the page). In addition, every time you turn on the Kindle from sleep mode, you will see a word “Opening” flashing …
  6. To test it out, simply send a PDF file to your Kindle via your personal Kindle email address – xxxxx@kindle.com. After a few minutes, try “Sync & Check for items” in the “Menu” again, and Amazon will download the PDF file to your Kindle. You will see a new file in your Home menu with a “pdf” in the left hand side. Select it and you shall see your PDF file with all the formatting in place !! (Somehow, one of my PDF files was not displayed correctly, but it is one with all graphics …). If the PDF file page is too small, try the new screen rotation function come with the version 2.3.

Screen Rotation

The Kindle screen image can be rotated so you can see the entire width of a web page or magnify the page of a PDF file.

Here’s how to lock your screen into portrait or landscape mode:

  1. Press the “Text” key (i.e. “aA” key, next to “SYM”) located on the bottom row of the keyboard. Screen Rotation is displayed at the bottom of the menu.
  2. Move the 5-way to select one of the four options to lock the display in a set orientation – Portrait; Landscape with the keyboard on the left; Portrait with the keyboard at the top; Landscape with the keyboard on the right.
  3. Press the controller to confirm your choice.

However, you can view Kindle Store pages only in portrait mode.

Hope it helps and enjoy this Thanksgiving Day gift from Amazon !! And if you don’t have the Kindle 2 yet, it is probably the best time to have one

Update 1: With this new version, you shall be able to read PDF with other languages (e.g. Chinese PDFs, Japanese PDFs) as well. Just make sure your PDF writer has all the languages / fonts installed. Then print the source file (with large font size, and narrow margin) to PDF and transfer to your Kindle will do.

Kindle for PC

Amazon just added one more member to its Kindle family today – the Kindle for PC beta version. This application lets you read your eBooks purchased from your Amazon account in your PC (Mac version is coming soon) and it is available for download now. The application executable file is about 5.3 Mbyte big and the installation is very straightforward.

Once you installed the application (by the way, it works well in my Windows 7 notebook computer), you can find your purchased eBooks in the “Archived Items”. Click one of the books and Amazon will send the book to your PC. The download process is quick and you can start reading your book straightaway. The navigation, supported by mouse and keyboard, also works very well. The display page can even adapt to your window size to display more or less content – i.e. you don’t need to scroll up and down to read a “full page”. The only thing I have not tested yet is whether this can synchronize with my Kindle 2 via the WhisperSync services.

All in all, a good tool on top of the Kindle 2, Kindle DX and Kindle for iPhone.

Olympus Colors – E-P1 or E-1 ?

As a owner of the legendary Olympus E-1 for almost 6 years now, I am still keeping this camera for many reasons. The rock solid body, the excellent handling, and of course, the signature Olympus color. Even I also have the E-300 and E-510, I still think in most of the times this “old” E-1 camera can out-perform the other two cameras I have easily – as long as you compare the output colors only.

And then six months ago, Olympus released their first Micro Four Thirds camera E-P1 and I am very pleased to find that the straight-out-of-camera JPEG colors are as good as the E-‘s1. In dpreview.com, there was one member gave these two cameras a blind test and it confirmed my findings. Looks like Olympus again did some magic in the latest image processing engine.

In fact, the more I use my E-P1, the more I have a feeling that I can leave my E-1, E-300 and E-510 at home … followings are some E-P1 pictures from Australia.

Sydney Bridge

Hervey Bay pier

Kata Tjunta

Buying US Kindle books, without hiding IP address

Just couple of weeks ago, Kindle users outside US like us found that we could not buy books for our Kindle 2 anymore. Even though we found that the solution is to hide your IP address when surfing Amazon web site, it is still very troublesome. Then in mid October, Amazon released the Kindle 2 International version and since then, we need to pay higher price for the same book.

I recently bought a new laptop with Windows 7 and I am not that keen to install a “hide-your-IP” software in the new machine (as this approach always slow down the browsing experience). But today I have a new book to buy (What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell) … so, what shall I do ?

Believe it or not, somehow I bought a US Kindle book just now without hiding my IP address (I’m staying in Hong Kong). First of all, I have set up my Amazon account with an US mail address, and also the 1-click payment method with an AMEX card with an US billing address. And then, I follow the steps below:

  1. Sign out from your Amazon account, if you have already logged in;
  2. Search for the book as usual, Amazon shall search for US books by default;
  3. You will be able to find the book, in US selling price (in my case, US$ 9.99, instead of US$ 11.99 for Asia and Pacific version);
  4. As long as you don’t log in (seems it trigger Amazon’s IP / Region check logic), and don’t change the Your country or region on the left-hand side menu, you can keep searching the right books;
  5. Then just go ahead to click 1-Click to buy the book, and only at this point log into your Amazon account;
  6. Confirm to buy the book for your Kindle 2 International version;
  7. That’s it, I bought an US Kindle books for my International version – without utility like Hotspot and Ultrasurf to hide my IP !!
  8. Then go to the “Manage your Kindle” page, and download the book to your computer, and subsequently transfer to your Kindle;
  9. One point to note is : still in the right hand side menu of the “Manage your Kindle” page, there is a pending item (the new book) to deliver to my Kindle. In other words, Amazon may eventually send me the book via wireless network and charge me extra US$ 2. But to me, install one less program in my computer is great !!

Hope it help.

Order detail

Update 1: It seems that as long as I have set up the Amazon account with US mail address, I can visit the Amazon shop from the Kindle International Edition (via Whispernet) and access the US bookstore. So, I can buy books not available from Asia & Pacific region, even I am now actually in Hong Kong. Great !!