Monthly Archives: February, 2007

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Visiting a friend’s house last night, I discovered a level of gadgetry to which even I had not previously aspired. It’s the latest thing from those dashed clever Japanese chaps, apparently.

Seat

Controller

I’m sorry the image is a little blurred. I can assure you I was neither oscillating nor pulsating at the time.

I didn’t try it out, actually. I rather regret it now. Not sure when I’ll get another chance and it would at least be an interesting experience, I imagine!

Using the Sony Reader PRS500 with the Mac

Sony PRS 500Yesterday, finding myself in Palo Alto, I took advantage of the current UK/US exchange rates to buy myself a new toy in Fry’s.

It’s the Sony PRS – the Portable Reader System – which is a bit like a giant read-only PalmPilot that uses the new e-Paper type display. It’s designed to be a replacement for a paperback – a way of viewing eBooks, and unlike some earlier devices, it’s not limited to DRM-encoded books downloaded from the manufacturer. You can put text files, RTF files, PDF files on it as well, and they look gorgeous.

However, there was a big question-mark over my purchase, which was that there is no official Mac or Linux support for this device. You can use a card reader to plug an SD card into your Mac, copy the files onto it and then plug it into the PRS, but that’s hardly convenient, especially in comparison to the (optional) USB docking station. Sadly, the PRS doesn’t just appear as a USB storage device. You can run the Sony software just fine under Windows using Parallels, but that’s yucky too.

Fortunately, Kovid Goyal came to my rescue with a system called librs500. He’s reverse-engineered the Sony protocols and created a Python-based library and utilities that can transfer files to and from the PRS. Sony owe him some money – the profit from my purchase, at the very least! You need to install a few bits, like Python 2.5, to use libprs500 – the easiest way is probably to use MacPorts. Once you’ve got libprs500 installed, though, you can start to do fun things.

Printing to the PRS

I wanted a way to take an arbitrary document on my Mac and make it available as a PDF on my PRS. Here, in a nutshell, is how to do it:

  • Go into File > Page Setup, pull down the ‘Paper size’ option and create a custom page size that you’ll use, where possible, for printing to the PRS. I called mine ‘Sony Reader’, and it’s 9.06 x 12.24cm, with small margins (0.3cm, in my case). When you want to output something for the PRS, it will usually look best if you set this small page size first.
  • We’ll use the Mac’s PDF Services facility, which lets you print to a PDF and send it to a particular location or program directly from the Print dialog. I created a wrapper script called book2prs which will be given the resulting PDF and will send it to the PRS using Kovid’s prs500 utility. You need to put the script in your ~/Library/PDF Services folder (create it if you haven’t got one). Or, like me, you can put it somewhere else and put an alias in the PDF Services folder which has a nice name. I called mine ‘To Sony Reader’.
  • Once this is all in place, you can plug the PRS into your USB port, pick your custom page size for your document and then go File>Print>PDF>To Sony Reader. All being well, when you unplug your PRS, it will have a new document on it! If something goes wrong – if you forget to plug in the PRS, for example – you won’t get any feedback to that effect, but the script does create a log at /tmp/book2prs.log which might be helpful. Any other error messages will be visible using the Console app. Lots of room for improvement here!
  • If you want to print stuff from Safari, it’s a good idea to customise the toolbar and add the little ‘AA‘buttons which let you change font size. In the absence of other info Safari will use the on-screen font size as a guideline for the font to use for printing, and you want slightly larger than normal for the PRS. I also found the output was much nicer if I set Safari to use a sans-serif font as the default. Again , this may be overwritten by CSS for a specific site, but it’s a useful default.
  • My version of the script will name the file on the PRS based on the title as seen by the print system. So you may need to modify it if, for example, you want to print different pages from the same web site and they all have the same page title. The later ones will overwrite the earlier ones at present.

There you are! Now you too can read Status-Q on a Sony Reader!

Status-Q on a Sony PRS

Kitchen table

rose

eTel 2007

I’ll be in San Francisco next week giving a talk about Ndiyo at the O’Reilly eTel Conference. Should be fun. I greatly enjoyed eTel last year…

The Nivos are coming…

USB Nivo
I see that IOGear’s incarnation of the USB Nivo is listed on their site now, and there’s a possible price of $83, though nobody seems to have stock of it quite yet…

Have you got the time to set the time?

This is one of the most scary Microsoft web pages I’ve seen in a while.

How to configure daylight saving time for the United States in 2007

You don’t want to read this, I promise you. But you should at least scroll through it.

My friend Phil Ashby forwarded me this link, originally brought to his attention by Scott Taylor – many thanks to both.

Careless talk costs files

Ha! I missed this! This is wonderful. There’s a security hole in Vista for which I can’t really attach much blame to Microsoft – I don’t think I’d have thought of it either…

Vista has a speech recognition engine built in – apparently it’s not too bad, at least for telling your PC to execute simple commands like copying files, closing windows etc.

The security hole is that if you have the recognition switched on, and somebody sends you an audio file by email or IM, and you play it, the microphone will pick up the sound coming out of your speakers. If that sound happens to be speech with instructions to delete a file and empty the trash folder, your computer might well obey it!

Presumably this can also happen with a web page you might browse to… You know those annoying ones which have some animation playing audio and you can’t work out how to turn it off? Well, imagine that the audio says something along the lines of ‘Send a New mail message to All your contacts with Subject: I love this product….’

Introducing…. the book!

I found a link to this lovely video clip on Engadget. Having worked in tech support in my youth, I think this is brilliantly done.

Update – this was taken off YouTube, but has re-appeared – splendid! I’ve updated the link above. Many thanks to John for finding it again.

Nokia Smart2go

Nokia’s starting to produce some quite interesting software for their smartphones. I wrote a little while ago about the podcast-listening application, and now they’ve come out with Smart2Go, a free and very capable mapping program – think of some mix of Google Maps, Google Earth, and Tom Tom.

They’re giving it away, but some of the services, such as Tom-Tom-style navigation using your bluetooth or built-in GPS, need to be paid for on a time basis. So if you’re visiting Italy for just a week, you can get a 7-day license for voice-based navigation and guidance for £4.29. The app is pretty heavy on network bandwidth, so if you’re not on a flat rate you may want to use the Windows app which lets you pre-download the maps to your phone.

Quite nice.

Why people love dogs

A nice article by Jon Katz.

Healthy (and humorous) skepticism.

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is the founder of Skeptic magazine and the author of several books. He’s quoted often in Dawkins’ The God Delusion. He’s also rather a nice chap. I know this because a few years ago he was cycling high up in the Tuscan hills above Cortona and had a puncture, and I happened to pass by and give him a lift down to his hotel, so got a chance to chat to him.

OK – enough name-dropping. The point of this post is that he gave a splendid talk at TED, which is great fun and definitely well worth 17 mins of your time. You can watch it or download a higher-resolution version here.

Reach, Burwell and Swaffham Prior

I went for a delightful walk yesterday evening, to the north-east of Cambridge.

sheep

pylons

St Mary's, Burwell

The Devil's Dyke, near Reach

The Red Lion, Swaffham Prior

Between Swaffham Prior and Reach

The Dyke's End pub at Reach

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser