Monday, March 28, 2011


In honor of Rango being the first movie of the year to break $100 million (plus we finally got around to seeing it this weekend), here are my observations on it. I will avoid spoilers.

This is the first full-length CGI movie by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Their experience in ground-breaking special effects really shows. This is an amazingly ambitious movie. Where Tangled went for a hand-drawn animation look, Rango is photo-realistic. No other CGI movie has come close to this level of detail.

It is also the first movie shot in what director Gore Verbinski calls "performance capture". Normally the voice work for animated movies is done with each actor recording his lines by himself in a sound booth. The other end of the spectrum is motion capture where the actors wear special suits that follow their movements. This is something in-between. What Verbinski did was to gather the entire cast and have them act out their parts using minimal costumes and props. In addition to recording their voices, their performance was captured on video tape. This became a reference for the animators.

So, it was a great technical triumph. But how is the movie? Hilarious.

The movie has a constant stream of jokes on multiple levels. Rango himself is funny as are the inhabitants of the town of Dirt. The town is a clever mixture of old west sets mixed with some modern items. Since the inhabitants are all small animals, items from the human world are oversized. For example, a five gallon tank from a water cooler becomes a water tower.

Finally, there are numerous references to other movies. Many of these are very subtle and you don't have to get any of them to understand the movie (except for the Spirit of the West).

The movie itself is a Don Knotts-style movie complete with references to one bullet. A hawk has a silver beak just as an evil gunslinger in Cat Ballou has a silver nose. One character is on a Don Quixote-style quest and carries a walking stick that looks like a lance. When we first see Rango he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. One of Johnny Depps' earlier roles was "Raoul Duke" who wore Hawaiin shirts and saw talking lizards.

The result is a movie that works for all ages. Adults need not be ashamed to see it but the kids will love it, too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nook on Android - further thoughts

After reading a few hundred pages on the Nook app for Android I have a better feel for what works and what doesn't. This has not changed my initial impression that the Kindle app is more mature.

My biggest complaint is with the app losing my place. It I just close the app and come back it often takes me to the start of the chapter. I have taken to bookmarking pages every time I put the tablet down or end the app. I can get back to this place but it is a three-step process. First I have to bring up the menu and select "GO TO" then I have to select "bookmarks" before I can select the proper bookmark to get to where I was. Unfortunately, the app does not synchronize bookmarks between devices so I cannot alternate reading with my tablet and my phone without having to hunt for my place.

The app also has trouble keeping the place when I change orientation. I have the landscape mode set for two columns which is much more readable than a single wide column. Landscape shows more text than portrait which requires the app to recalculate my position. If I turn the tablet over completely then it recalculates twice and loses my place, sometimes going back two pages. When in landscape mode, my tablet has a slightly wider margin at the bottom. When in portrait, it is easier to hold this side. The app starts up in portrait mode with the larger margin on the right so if I want to hold it in my left hand I either have to hold the narrower margin or lose my place. Also, the power button ends up on the bottom in the default position and it is possible to put the device to sleep if I rest it on my leg the wrong way. There is a noticeable lag while it recalculates my position and it does this twice when I turn it over. All of this is probably made worse because I am reading a long book (The Lord of the Rings).

In contrast, the Kindle app reorients very quickly (although I was testing on a shorter book) and never loses my place. If I open the same book on a different device it offers to take me to the last place I was reading and it gets it right, even when switching between the large screen on my tablet and the small screen on my phone.

My previous post mentioned that I have to use my right hand to turn the page (or my left hand if I am paging back) regardless of which hand I am holding the tablet with. Kindle uses a swipe gesture so I can use either hand.

There are some good points about the Nook app. It offers more fonts than other programs and four themes - white, egg, sepia, and black. Bookmarks are done by touching the top right corner and shows as if the corner was folded over.

The page turn animation looks good but is sluggish, especially in landscape mode. My tablet is as fast as any Android tablet in the market so the animation itself is slow. This can be turned off. Then it resembles a Kindle page turn.

The app supports footnotes but these are not implemented very well. They work like a regular web link but there is no way back. The "back" key takes you out of the book. The only way to use a footnote is to bookmark the page you are on then go through the "goto bookmark" process to return.

My overall impression is that the app needs a few more releases before it catches up with the Kindle in usability. Since both run on my tablet, I only have to live with the Nook app when a book is not available from Amazon. I have no idea how well the Nook app works on other devices but I expected it to work better on Android since that is what the Nook branded readers run on.

Friday, March 11, 2011

EBooks on Android

I've been having fun with my tablet but I have not found the experience as magical as advertised. Using touch with a web browser does not "make the Internet disappear" as some of the more breathless accounts of the IPad claimed. But that isn't why I bought a tablet. I mainly wanted it as an EBook reader. For that, it is great. So far I have read all or parts of several books using various readers. As I hoped, I find reading much easier on a tablet. It is smaller and lighter than a hardback and the print is larger and better lit than reading a paperback. Also, I can carry multiple books with me at once in case I finish a book while on a trip.

Plus, of course, it is really easy to get more books. All I need is WiFi access.

The experience does vary by reader. All of them are usable but some are more mature. Here are my experiences.


This is the most mature product. It automatically orients which ever way you hold it. Page turns only take a short swipe. I can easily hold the tablet in my left hand, balanced on my leg and turn pages with my thumb. The page flip shows as new text replacing the old text from right to left. The app lets me adjust the font size and margins. It has three viewing options - black on white, black on sepia, and white on black. I can read for a while on my tablet then open the book on my phone and the Kindle app will automatically offer to sync the position in the book. I can tap on the screen and see a progress bar at the bottom showing how far I am into the book. the bookshelf view also gives an indication of how long a book is and how far you are into it with a row of dots beside each book.

The Kindle store (Amazon) has a wide variety of free books that are out of copyright. It also has some deeply discounted books. Some books offer a free sample. When you buy a book you can specify which device you want it sent to and it will appear there. Other devices can download the book on request.


This is not quite as mature but it is close. It offers more viewing options than the Kindle app. In addition to changing font size, you can also change the font itself. Nook also offers more color options: white, sepia and eggshell plus white on black.The sepia option in Kindle is subtle. With Nook, it is more pronounced and closer to the color of old paper. Using an older-style font with sepia is very close to the experience of reading a real book. This is enhanced by the page-turn animation which is more pronounced than the Kindle. By touching the upper right-hand corner you can add a bookmark which looks like a folded over corner. It also shows the current page number and the total page count at all times.

There are a few things I don't like. The opening screen does not auto-orient. It has a fixed portrait orientation. To turn a page forward you tap the right side. This means that I cannot turn the page with my thumb. I have to hold it with my left hand and turn the page with my right hand. The animation is also a bit slow. Making the app look and feel like a book is a good thing but it should not affect usability.

Unlike the other readers, the Nook app opens on a menu instead of your current bookshelf. It does sync books between devices.

The Barnes and Noble store is not as tightly integrated. Buying a book does not push it onto a selected device. You always have to pull it in a separate step. Also, you have to enter your billing information and credit card before you can download a free book. There are differences in the books carried. I considered getting a digital copy of the Lord of the Rings so that I can reread it without carrying a big hardback. Amazon offers the individual volumes separately at $10 each ($30 for all). Barnes and Noble has a single-volume collection for $19. B&N also has a selection of recent books that are either free or $0.99.


Borders was late to the EBook market and it shows. They do not have a proprietary device. Instead they use a reader from a third party called Kobo. I think that this is where their desktop and app versions come from, also. Page orientation works but there are fewer display options. You can change font size and choose serif, sans serif, or monospace. There is no sepia option, just black on white or white on black. You can flip pages with your thumb but there is no animation. The whole page just changes. I have used this the least, partly because the lack or page flip animation make it difficult to tell that you changed pages. The app does sync between devices.

The Borders store is very similar to B&N's store in set-up and content.


Unlike the others, this is an open source reader that is not associated with a book seller. You can buy books through it. You can also use it to search Project Gutenburg. You have to manually rotate the screen with this reader and it does not sync between devices.

Cool Reader

This is an app for reading files in RTF format. I have a copy of The Hobbit in this format so I tried it. This app uses a background that looks like paper complete with texture. It does not sync between devices and does not support any library.


Bottom line - I listed these in order of preference. Assuming that I can get the same book for the same price, I would choose the Kindle app first and the Nook second. I am avoiding the Borders app because of the page turn.