iBooks and eBay—a winning combo

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Apples and Apple, Inc.

As a reader of eBooks, I’ve been exploring new ways (and revisiting old ones) to view content. Recently, I saw a title touted on Facebook, and a quick look at eBay revealed several purchase options, including an eBook which was offered as a pdf file. I paid a golly whopping .99, and it arrived via email. Not quite as quick as Big A, but the seller offered pretty quick service. I tried reading the file via my email app, but that didn’t save my place, so I downloaded the file to iBooks. Winner, winner, but no chicken dinner. However, the iBooks app is a very good way to read a pdf file, and the app is easy to use, just like other, more well known ways to view eBook content. Certainly, the price was right, too.

When Big A (the relentless internet seller) decided to give me the old “heave, ho” I was a bit concerned about when and where I’d get new books to read, as I am not buying from them at the moment, but that fear has been allayed by the eBay and iBooks combination. The title I purchased is “Liver Rescue” which I won’t review, as I sincerely hope my readers don’t need it, but I’ll let you know that one way to help the liver is to eat lots of apples. Actually, I am very pleased to get a 500+ text for a buck, and the advice to eat a fruit I really like is welcome, also. Thanks eBay! And thanks to Apple, for making such an intuitive app for the iPad. Reading about apples on an Apple product is quite appropriate, isn’t it?

Nook—a second look at the eBook app

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Nook is an app and a device!

Since big A decided to fire me as one of their “Associates” I have set aside my K—  library for the moment, and am re-reading some older titles via the Nook app on my iPad. For readers who aren’t familiar with this, it is basically the eBook platform used by Barnes and Noble. While I have not purchased many books via B & N, I was once a very loyal customer at Fictionwise. When B & N bought out Fictionwise in 2009, I was able to keep some, alas not all, of the content I had purchased, by adding the Nook app, so those books became part of my Nook library. And, as there are quite a few titles there, I am looking through the library, seeing if anything is worth a second read. One of the best aspects of eBooks is that the “keeper shelf” takes up no room in my house!

The Nook app works like other eBook apps; the raw file format is ePub. In their review of eBook apps, CNET judged it as #3, and it is quite good. I find the animation associated with page changes very pleasing; it looks just like flipping a physical page! I also like having basic info at the top of the screen (date, time, % of battery are all available) as well as the typical (in print format) of two facing pages, with the title on one side and the author name on the other. Apart from a page number, which is not possible as the file must adapt to the reader’s screen size, the interface is very book-like, and I mean that as a compliment. As an app, it is a bit quirky, however. For instance, getting back to the library can be a bit of a chore, as one must first get a more info screen, and then the option to move around a bit becomes available.

There is a library screen, a bookstore screen, a quick link back to the current book being read, and something called “Readouts” which is a bit of sales pitch mixed with freebies and information. The library screen shows “Recent Reads” and “Recent Purchases” as defaults, and there are tabs with “All titles” and “Shelves” which are, of course, organizing tools. Unfortunately for me, the only way I can find some of the oldies is via the “search” feature, but it works quite well. For instance, I didn’t finish my last name before both of my titles popped right up!

I use my iPad (mostly) for reading, so I’m using the free app, but Barnes and Noble is currently offering a 7 inch screen Nook for about $50, and a big screen (10 inch) for $130. When eBooks were new to the market, most were priced substantially lower than their print counterparts, and sometimes that is still true. Lots of classics are free, of course, but lower priced options can be, well, garbage. Overall, the prices at B & N are a bit higher than their ginormous internet competitor, but the store’s interface is elegant. Also, the content is a bit more “curated” than the content over at Big A, where just about anyone can sell anything, regardless of quality.

Since I’ve been reading via the Nook app, I have begun researching the possibility of pulling Trinity on Tylos out of the K— exclusive program and publishing it via ePub to other bookstores. Perhaps Barnes and Noble readers would buy a few digital copies. Stay tuned….

Weight loss apps— my experience

scaleI guess the subtitle is Weight Watchers vs. My Fitness Pal, as those are the only two I have used enough to review in a meaningful manner.

Quite a long time back, I went to Weight Watchers and lost a goodly amount of weight, but I didn’t reach any goal. My thought at the time was that I had learned so much that I would be able to maintain my loss, and for a time I was somewhat successful. Fast forward a decade plus, and I was shopping the big girl’s section, which wasn’t much fun. Also, I became seriously concerned about the health effects of carrying so much extra weight around.

So, I joined Weight Watchers again, and wow, had things changed. Everyone was using the “app” and the meetings were half as long as before, because things were so high-tech. But, the core principles are the same: foods are assigned points, based on both calories and how “healthy” they are, and users are assigned a point target, based on certain individual criteria. Instead of looking up point values in a book, as we did before, the app can assist, even allowing users to scan a bar code on a package. (I don’t use that feature much, because fresh foods like blackberries and tomatoes do not have bar codes.) Anyway, the program works, and I lost even more weight than I did the first time, albeit over a longer period of time. (Maturity sucks.)

As I was losing, hubby lost quite a bit, too. He and his doctor were happy with the change, so hubby decided to go “all in” on weight loss, but he was not about to pay for it. So, he decided to try the “My Fitness Pal” app, as the basic version is free, and it works quite well. Since I do most of the cooking, he was always asking me for assistance in recording his food intake, which weight loss programs call “tracking,” so I ended up doing both WW and MFP for a few months. I’m currently still at my goal weight, which means as a lifetime member, I can use the WW app for free, but instead I am using MFP.

Both apps are very good, but for losing weight and learning how to do that, I would certainly stick with the WW app. By weighting (pun intended) certain foods, the app not only tracks users, but steers them toward healthy eating habits and better portion control. One excellent feature of the WW app is the recipes, which help users come up with a healthy recipe for whatever ingredients are entered. So, if I see pork tenderloin on sale, I can open the app and summon several healthy recipes right on my phone or iPad. However, the nutrition reports offered by the MFP app does a much better job of showing excesses or deficiencies in what I’ve been eating. For instance, I’ve been using MFP to help me keep up with how much protein I am eating, as I am a serious carb lover, and I might eat too many carbs and too little protein without those handy reports.

In our high tech world, it is quite easy to eat too much and move too little, so apps such as Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal are very helpful.

Because it is the right thing to do.

Once upon a time, I owned an iBook, so well-used that I was on my third keyboard when the hinge broke, damaging the case as it blew out. Having purchased AppleCare, I was not too upset, until some Apple Genius told me that I had dropped it and caused the damage, and Apple wouldn’t pay for accidental damage. After a few days of phone calls, trips to Apple service centers, emails to various officials at Apple, and many hours of trying to get my computer fixed (at no charge) some guy named Steve called me from Apple. He listened to my tale of woe, and said that Apple was not contractually obligated to pay for my computer, but that they were going to do so anyway, “because it is the right thing to do.” And so they did.

Since the dude on the phone didn’t use his last name, I don’t know for sure if I spoke with the head honcho of Apple or not, but after having read Job’s biography, I wonder. At several points in the book, Steve Jobs did what he believed to be right, even if everyone else thought it was wrong. Despite being a jerk, he was a person who wanted to produce great products and put them in the hands of people. Each iteration of Macintosh computers have been simple to use and as elegantly designed as possible, because Steve Jobs had a vision of what the personal computer should be. The iPod and the iTunes store work together seamlessly, because Jobs loved music. The iPhone is unparalleled because Jobs wanted a phone that was better than what he could buy. The iPad is mobile computing at its best, because  Jobs made the deals that made it possible. Indeed, Jobs had several talents, and even some of his personality flaws contributed to his success. Like a coach who is both loved and feared, Jobs was able to get people to do more than they ever dreamed possible. Apple, despite being the most valuable company in the world, continued to have the flexibility to capitalize on opportunities, because there was one strong mind at the helm.

Was he a genius? I think so. Was he a jerk? At times. Was he a criminal? Some tabloids say he was, but I view him as merely eccentric. Did he have a real life? I hope so, but Walter Issacson’s biography of Jobs is roughly 75% about Apple (and Next), and what Jobs did there, including too much information about office politics. Perhaps another 10% is about his time as  head of Pixar.  Since Jobs’ widow and offspring were no doubt in the midst of mourning when this book was released, I suppose that it is too much to ask for more details about his family life. Was he in the delivery room when his kids were born? I don’t know. Did he ever attend a PTA meeting? I don’t know.

Having read quite a number of articles and even a few books about Apple and its products, I found some of Issacson’s book to be tedious. But, for anyone who didn’t know much about Jobs, the biography is quite enlightening. Jobs’s adoptive father was a strong influence on him, but so was his interest in eastern religion. He’s one of the more famous college dropouts of his era, and that, too, is relayed in terms of how it helped him at Apple. Jobs was more artist than engineer, more salesman than CEO, but his insistence on doing things his way was more often “right” than “wrong” and the world is a far different place than it would have been had he not lived. No, really. Imagine our world with clunky IBM based computers, no iPod, iPhone, iTunes, iPad, and no products which copy those technologies. Steve Jobs said he wanted to change the world, and he did.

That’s quite a legacy, and one worth reading about. If you haven’t yet read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, it is well worth the time it takes.