691st post: How to prepare to travel abroad

Having travel abroad myself, I have went through the trouble of preparing for my travels. I have seen and heard of people who don’t travel just because of the fear of the unknown, or not understanding the situation behind horror stories they may have heard, or while they are just about to travel, they have forgotten something important at the last minute. This guide assumes that you are not using an agent to help you or have anything that requires your attention while you are away that can’t be done while travelling.

This list is sorted according to how important you need to get things done, with the most important first.

  1. Get a passport
    1. This is the most important document you would need to travel. Some countries have agreements to let citizens of one country into another with just an ID, but you will need a passport for all others.
    2. If you already have a passport, make sure it isn’t expired, or a few months close to the expiry date. The exact number of months varies by country, but it is generally 6 months at most.
      1. If you are getting a visa (see below) for the long-term, like work or study, you might also want to take note if they require your passport’s validity covers the length of the visa that can be in years.
  2. Determine your destination
    1. You might also want to check if the weather or political situation there is suitable too.
  3. Check if your destination requires a visa
    1. Some countries requires citizens of certain countries to obtain a visa before entering the country, including a tourist visa. Even with that, which port of entry you would enter with may have different rules, or particular visas that could only be obtained there, or even the total amount of visa-free period you would be given.
      1. China, for example, have separate immigration laws for Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and China itself only allows a handful number of citizens of countries in visa-free. If you are transiting through China to another country, take note that transit visa would only be given at the Shanghai airports (Hongqiao and Pudong).
      2. Visa-free periods varies from 14 days to 6 months, and some have the additional requirement of not having spent more than more than a certain number of days in a year.
    2. For those entering for reasons besides short-term visit, you might also need to prepare additional paperwork to give to the customs officer.
  4. Check if you can take leave from work, and for how long.
    1. This would determine how long the trip would be and, indirectly, the flight you would book.
    2. You might want to reserve some days off should there be something.
    3. To maximise the amount of total days of your trip while using little of your leave days, take days off at on the work days before and/or after your days off. (I say “days off” instead of public holidays or weekends as it wouldn’t be correct for people who work on those days.)
  5. Reserve flight
    1. Book flights before booking the hotel (or check both without booking) as some airlines do not fly every day, or are fully booked. For the budget concious, different flights on different times/days to the same destination may have different flight fares, even within the same airline.
    2. To avoid disappointment of encountering full flights or not being able to sit together with your travel companion, make sure you book your flight months in advance.
    3. Flights with stopovers are likely to cost less than a direct flight, but waiting times between flights add up to your total travelling time.
    4. You might want to take note of the local time of departing and arrival locations. The airport may have public transport, but if your flight arrives after hours (or too close to the last train), or departs at a time that is practically impossible for you to catch, that would mean spending hours at the airport. Do you want that?
      1. Ideally, you should plan to be able to reach the hotel within a few hours of when the check-in hours are (usually in the afternoon), even if they allow you to check in up until their offices close for the day.
      2. Depending on the flight, timezone and travelling time, you might not have an option to change this.
  6. Reserve Hotel
    1. You can book a hotel before the flight, but in my opinion, flights should be handled first as they are trickier get on, where availability and costs varies greatly. You would be limited to the flights available and may be forced to take the more expensive flights when the cheap ones are unavailable.
    2. Check the reviews from reliable sources, and beware of fake comments and ratings that artificially make a bad hotel look good when it is not. Some groups may use names of different hotels but use the same images.
      1. For places like Hong Kong, where property prices are expensive, they might do this to have rooms in other places that are likely to be different units within the same building.
    3. Some “hotel rooms” are actually a bed in a shared dormitory with a number of other people, and facilities shared with other people. If you are lucky, they may have enough facilities so you don’t have to wait for another person to get done with their turn. Unless otherwise mentioned, assume they are mixed-gender dorms, though female dorms are available. This is among the cheapest option to have a decent place to stay in.
    4. Some places are what it is called “bed & breakfast” (BNB), where it is basically like someone’s place to sleep at.
  7. Exchange money
    1. It may seem funny for me to list this after reserving flight and hotel, but chances are you would have paid for those via credit/debit card, where they would be converted automatically, or you would pay for the stay at the hotel itself.
    2. It is best if you would exchange money in your home country, and withdraw the cash to exchange for at where there aren’t suspicious people around. If the currency you want to change to isn’t offered by the money changer, change to the USD first and change again at that country.
      1. If, for whatever political reason the country has against the US, you might want to change to another currency like the Euro instead.
    3. While you can use your credit/debit or ATM card abroad, you would want to have some local currency on you, and in case there is a problem with your cards.
      1. While some shops and hotels accept your currency, the exchange rates may not be favourable, and you would possibly receive change in the local currency.
    4. If you are transiting through another country, it is recommended you change some money for the currency of there too, though there could be ATMs that you can use.
    5. Keep in mind that exchange rates at the airport money changer may not be favourable than elsewhere, though the ATMs there might offer the same rates as anywhere in the country, which may be better.
      1. Note that not all ATMs accept foreign cards. If they do accept it, the rates and fees by one bank might be less favourable than an other bank.
      2. If the bank you are with have branches at the country you are visiting, withdraw with that bank before using another bank as you should not be charged for withdrawal.
      3. In countries like Japan, most ATMs operate only during business hours, so make sure you have enough cash to last through the night and weekends. Foreign banks and those at Seven Eleven are the notable exceptions.
  8. Pack your bags
    1. Don’t pack too much, unnecessary things especially.
      1. If unsure, or if it is something that can be bought at the destination country that wouldn’t be needed while travelling, do not pack it in.
    2. Don’t pack what isn’t allowed through the airport or the country.
      1. This includes liquid-based toiletries above a certain total capacity.
    3. If staying for several days, just pack a few clothes and wash it at the hotel instead of bringing clothes that covers the whole period: it would make your bag heavy, and take up space.
  9. Check and recheck your flight info.
    1. Airports, airlines, or destination country require that you check-in 45 minutes to 2 hours before the departure time. Make sure you are already at the airport when they open if you don’t want to rush, which means that you should start departing a lot earlier than that.
  10. Bring your stuff along, and check-in on time
    1. You wouldn’t want to forget everything you have prepared and miss the flight, would you?

687th post: Water and electricity wastage

From time to time, I come across a situation where there is obvious wastage. No, these aren’t like “this factory uses too much energy”, but more of “hey, someone left this tap running for a long time” or people unnecessarily turning fans and air conditioning to its maximum, leaving the tap running as they brush their teeth, and so on.
I don’t know if anyone knows, but phones these days uses more and more energy (and battery technology not keeping up with it) means charging more frequently, and indirectly, more energy being used.
Well, at least the good thing about energy use these days are that devices are that they generally use less energy than the older counterparts.

682th post: Designing a profile, and maybe attract followers

So you probably have a Twitter account or some social networking page that says about you to other people. However, there is more to just typing words and inserting images.

This is probably what an average person would see on their screen. As you can see, the interface would take up some space. More importantly, the whole bio should be visible in the remaining space, and leave some space around them.

However, the view can look different if viewed on a mobile device and exclude some elements like profile background, along with possible extra steps to view everything. The banner image might not appear if viewed from a 3rd party app, or the mobile web version on non-smartphones. Keep this in mind as not everyone wants to view everything or viewing from something that doesn’t show it.

If people are viewing your profile, along with several others at the same time, you would want to make it look appealing. This also means that the choice or words and images needs to look nice too. I don’t claim to be an expert, but what I do with mine seem to attract people.

So here are the things to take note of:

Tweets
Not exactly part of the bio, but it is visible from the profile. People actually look at what you tweet (retweet and mentions too), particularly the recent ones. If it is filled with too much retweets, caption-less links to images, automatically generated tweets from places like YouTube, without any breathing room in between, that is not good. I have unfollowed people before because of this reason, and only because they flood my timeline. Who knows how many more that I failed to catch.

Depending on the person, they may also be particular on how often/little you tweet: too little and they may forget about you, or even not see your tweet if they follow a number of active people. If you tweet too much, your followers might see nothing but your tweets in their timeline.

Private account? There’s a chance that they won’t follow you just because they can’t see your tweets, which includes mentions to them. Sure they can send a request to follow, but if they have a lot of other people to look through, and/or have past experience of private accounts they followed being not good, they would skip private accounts completely, possibly quickly too.

But why make it private in the first place? If it’s because of spam, you are probably overreacting. If it’s because you don’t want certain people to see something, you should block them, or don’t say it (at least not with that account).

Background Image
So you want to put some box that is like an extension of your bio as part of the background image? Bad news: not everyone views it in the same browser dimensions as you, which can be bigger than your screen. Even worse, it is not visible on non-PC web versions. However, you should have a background image anyway as it would make your profile look better. After all, it is the largest image visible on your profile, and if they see the default image, they may think that you are a boring person. The same goes for the banner image.

Recently, there is an option to choose if the transparent layer over the background (the gaps between each parts in the top screenshot) be either white or black, so you can pick which one is better, like black for a dark background image., and whether the image be positioned at the left, center, or right. Depending on the image and its size, having it tiled can be a good idea too. However, there is no option to change the horizontal positioning between top, middle, or bottom.

Banner Image
Kind of like background image, but behind just your profile image instead of the whole profile. You can choose what area to crop to and what level of zoom. Unlike backgrounds, it could also appear on mobile apps or mobile web for smartphones. You can try to align it with your display picture, but you wouldn’t want to be exact with it as, for example, your alignment in the web version might not be the same in landscape mode of the iPad version. I know you might not use it, but this is about what other people see when they view yours.

Images and videos you tweet and retweet
This would say more of who you are, particularly to people that don’t know you. Retweets with images do not appear on your profile unless you manual retweet them. If you tweet too much images at a time, particularly of a particular theme, it can turn people off and possible have them unfollow you just so their timeline isn’t flooded with those. As of the time of writing, they have recently introduced a feature where image previews are visible without the need of expending. Not a good thing if your image tweets are questionable or even not-safe-for-work.

However, only supported sources would appear there. It is not clear what exactly these sources are, but these include YouTube, vimeo, twitpic, and so on. Some sources, like pixiv or tuippuru has the preview appear like a news article preview. Keep note that this may change over time, or even be excluded completely. Historically, this includes yfrog and instagram.
(Why? Well, Imageshack (company behind yfrog) services are getting more annoying to use lately, unusable if on a non-smartphone mobile device. As for instagram, probably because they have been bought over by rival Facebook)

Bio and website link
Try not to follow the crowd, avoid unnecessary details (like your age and gender), and keep it short and simple. After all, you can only enter a limited amount of characters in it. Also, avoid using hashtags or typing everything in caps.

For the link in your bio, try to link it to a place to where people who may be interested in you to know more, like your blog. And please do not use a link shorterner here: people may think you are a bot if you do. This link could also be one of the chances (probably the only chance if your account is private) if someone wants to find out more about you.

Personally, I would prefer that there would be no hashtags or links in your bio besides the website link next to the location field. Placing a link to a portal of where you would place all your other sites is not recommended: I wouldn’t know which one to click, or not want to go the extra step just to find out more (keep in mind that there may be tabs of other people’s profile in their browser), and not bother going further. I would if this was on the blog instead.

Location
You can enter the name of your town/city here, your GPS coordinates here, stuff like “Within the Whelm of Darkness ( ´Д`)σ)Д`)”, or just leave it blank.

Take note: There are apps that tells you where your followers are from. Don’t know if they get the information in this text field. Also, if you are entering a real location, be mindful that it is viewed from around the world, so people may not know what your two-letter US/Canada postal short-forms for the state means, and it could be mistaken as a short form of an another country in the world.

678th post: Pseudo Japanese things that aren’t Japanese at all

You may have seen them before. From that “How to Draw Manga” I came across in a London museum (above tweet, possibly by an American author), to having the “の” (or its romanised form “no”) being used excessively like “Ookami no Jutsu” or, if in Chinese, something like “时间の乐趣”.

If you aren’t familiar with Chinese or Japanese, notice the random の being used as a substitute for 的 in the middle of a Chinese sentence that contains characters that aren’t normally used in Japanese, or used only in Simplified Chinese. If you are having trouble telling apart a genuine Japanese product with a copycat from China (Taiwan especially), look at the design like the fonts used: some products uses particular fonts that are commonly used on other Japanese products, but never elsewhere. If there’s a barcode, the first two digits of a genuine Japanese product should start with “42”. If it doesn’t, it’s not a real Japanese product.

Then there are overused Japanese themes used in the media that, while not historically inaccurate, it may give the impression to those who know nothing about Japan that it’s still filled with ninjas, samurai, geisha, houses are made up of low-rise wooden houses, and people get around by horses. To make things more complicated, there are actual dramas on Japanese TV that does look like it takes place in the Edo era (Early 17th century to mid 19th century) or earlier, which, if it is the only thing that a non-Japanese that knows little of the country were to see it would think that it is the modern-day Japan. (It’s possible if the influence is none or not obvious, and the local media hardly or doesn’t cover it at all, which itself you don’t watch.)

Until seemingly recently, I have also seen people using random katakana (or some typeface that tries to look like it) or some funny curved lines (which is also used in Chinese context) that are like what I call “chicken markings”. They then try to excessively use it when talking about Japanese things. Sometimes with some strange accent that even Japanese speaking English would never use. I said “until seemingly recently” because I almost never see them these days. Possibly due to increased awareness of the Japanese language and culture, mostly through anime.

647th post: Getting around abroad

In recent years, I had travel to countless number of different countries around Asia. I travel because I hear so much about different countries, but never actually visited them.

Back then, I had thought that you could only go abroad through “packages” by travel agencies, which I found expensive and inflexible. Not a fan of tour guides that travel around in large “herds” I see around me either. Just visiting a tourist spot near where I live and I could already see how expensive it is over the “less-touristy” ones.

  • Expensive: Hotels they offered, which is typically 3 to 5 stars, and may include meals containing food I do not want to eat.
  • Inflexible: They have schedules that are made up of mostly visiting tourist places and, looking at it, there is only little time where we aren’t herded around except perhaps arriving and departing days, which, depending on what time of the day, can be short or long. I hate following schedules.

Anyway, during my travels abroad, I usually brought about 2-3 pairs of clothing (more for underwear and socks) and other random stuff that would fit in a haversack and still have room. Since I’m also boarding a plane without any check-in luggage as much as possible, I did not bring along toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. Actually, you can bring these along, as long you check it in, total liquids you are carrying does not exceed 100ml in a transparent bag (which is troublesome to measure), or non-liquid versions of these. These kinds of things can be found at the destination country’s hotel or stores anyway.

Another thing is to take note is to keep an eye out for the exchange rate between your currency and the currency you are visiting for a few weeks. Depending on the rates, you may need to change early, or right before the trip. If there are stopovers in a different country, exchange a bit of that country’s currency (US$100 should be more than enough if you are just buying a meal) too. Depending on the country and place, rates from the ATM or outside the airport might have a better exchange rate. Note: Excluding the local currency, coins are generally not accepted or given at money changers.

Anyway, here are the things I find about a place that other countries do not have or are in a different way.

Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Johor Bahru)

Getting around is kind of straightforward, but not so easy if outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Everywhere you see are likely to notice are car models that you would not see anywhere else in the world. The atmosphere feels kind of fierce, strong influence of a particular religion is noticeable too, and the crime rate there doesn’t make me feel easy there. Even though the cost of things there might see high, the currency exchange rate against my home currency actually makes it cost less than back home.

1 USD is about 3 Malaysian Ringit

China (Shanghai and Shenzen)

I only made a short visit to these cities as I need to travel to get to elsewhere in an another country, so I don’t really know much. Easy way to calculate is to think of it as divide the amount by 10 to get the amount in British Pounds, a currency more familiar to me.

The first thing I noticed is that the side of the road and tracks buses and trains travel on are at the opposite side from what I’m used to. I actually found myself wondering how to get around as it wasn’t planned. Cost of things are cheap compared to back home, and probably at par with Malaysia. Can’t put a rough number on it though.

Hong Kong

The reason why I mentioned being to Shenzen is because it was part of a side day trip from Hong Kong. Macau was considered, but did not go there in the end. The HKD rate may be 0.8 yuan or 12 yen per dollar, but the cost of things are actually that of between China and Japan. The Hong Kong coins are the thickest, heaviest, and largest (in size) that I have ever come across. Excluding the HK$10 note (issued by the government to replace the coin version), the banknotes are distributed by several different banks instead of a central bank, which is the weirdest thing I have come across for money.

As I get around, there are actually features that help the blind at pedestrian crossings and the ends of escalators, along with brale signs. Just crossing the border with China (Shenzen) and you would notice how different things are, form the standard of English, to cleanness. Signs are bilingual (English and Traditional Chinese) everywhere.

To ride on public transport, I obtained an Octopus Card (or 八達通 in Chinese) to save the hassle to dig up for coins, and exact change in some cases, to pay for buses, tram and trains. You could also use it to pay at convenient stores (though the cashier seem reluctant when I asked) and vending machines too. I am not sre about this, but apparently paying by Octopus Card might be cheaper than paying in cash too. I never paid in cash for transport except to top up the card, so I don’t know about that.

Kansai Region (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe)

Visiting this region feels like being in a different country than Tokyo. It may not be for neighbouring Kyoto, but in Osaka (and I forgot to mention earlier: Hong Kong too), people riding the escalator stand on the right instead of the left.

The trains uses a non-rechargable magnetic card that can be use instead of queuing up at long queues for the ticket machine, but you still pay the same fare. Like other cities in Japan, but not outside, you can use it even when the value is low and chose to pay for the insufficient difference either in cash or with another similar card. I bought several of them of 1000 yen each (minimum you could buy, but it’s worth about less than 5 trips anyway) for the card design.

There are contactless card, but those are linked to your phone bill and obviously not accessible to the foreigner. I hear it’s also compatible with JR West’s ICOCA card, but I hardly ever come across any JR West station. The ICOCA card itself is also compatible with the SUICA card of the Kanto region (including Tokyo) and vice versa, but the PiPoPa doesn’t work with the SUICA card.

Singapore

What you would notice is how similar it is compared to Hong Kong due to both being former British colonies and small land area, which relates to infrastructure and such.

If you will be taking public transport a lot in Singapore, get the ez-link or NETS Flashpay card from the ticket counter (or customer service at the ticket barrier if there isn’t any) as not only would you pay cheaper than by cash, it would be less of a hassle to pay the bus fare as there is no facilitation for change and therefore need to pay in exact change (or more). On top of that, distance-based fares means that no matter how many buses and trains you take, the total fare you would pay is just one long mode of transport. The only catch is that time between transfers must not exceed 45 minutes, not take the same bus service number more than once, and not take the train more than once.

These cards contain a $5 deposit, which is included in the card balance. You cannot use this card if the balance is less than $5 for trains, or, for buses, less than the maximum fare at where you board the bus (which includes transfer discounts from buses and trains you may had taken up to 45 minutes earlier). Don’t forget to tap out as you had paid the maximum when you tapped in or you would not be refunded for the fare difference.

As for taxis, prepare to pay in cash even though various modes of payment are displayed on the door. You would be charged more on top of surcharges anyway. Yellow and black taxis are privately run and are less likely to support payments anything other than cash. At the city center, taxis are not allowed to drop or pick up passengers besides taxi stands and private roads.

Thailand (Bangkok, Kanchanaburi)

The cost of things you would find in Thailand are very noticeably cheaper than the other countries I had been to. Being from where the cost of things is higher, along with a higher exchange rate with the baht, means that it’s so cheap that I would go “that can’t be right”. Of course, that also means that if I were to settle there, that would mean that I would be (likely to be) paid less than back home for the same job. I feel safer here than when I was in Malaysia.

The Thais would usually take the the bus as the BTS Skytrain is considered expensive for them, but for the more well off and foreigners like me, it’s still cheap. When you first enter Bangkok, you would notice the motorcycle taxis and vehicles that are louder than what I’m used to. If it weren’t for the language barrier and cases where tourists are cheated, I could had rode them. For the buses, they seem kind of old. Fare is paid to the conductor, so you just board the train and the conductor would come to you where you would pay the fare, if they noticed you.

For the Skytrain, you would buy a prepaid card, just like the one in the Kansai region, but paying only for the trip you are travelling. Except for the newer ones, the machines accept only 5 and 10 baht coins. Use the newer machines (which can have a long queue) or the service counter next to the ticket gate to exchange. The new underground subway system uses the same method as the new ticket machine, but dispenses a (plain) round token. There are ongoing developments to develop a card that works on both the Skytrain and the subway.

But if you are headed to places like River Kwai section of the Death Railway near Kanchanaburi (about 200km Northwest from Bangkok), you are better off taking a tour bus or with your own transport. Sure there is a bus terminal there to and from Bangkok, but the bus terminal is about 2-4km and, at the Bangkok side, you would have to take a bus from the city centrer to a terminal some distance away that is at the outskirts of Bangkok. If you can’t speak Thai, you are going to have trouble asking for help.

645th post – World records and their authencity

So, you may have come across a book like “G****** World Book of Records” and looked through and get amazed at the things they mention.

But how many record-breaking things are there that are not recorded in this book? How many are achieved through cheating, or through impractical and unrealistic means? Which record has the most number of failed attempts? Some of these records looked as if they are done for the sake of doing it and either beat the previous record (even by just a tiny amount) or have it to themselves.

If you watch their shows, or a news article about it, you would noticed that the event is “officially” supervised by someone. Nobody is going to recognize an event that actually breaks an existing record without shortcuts used if it is not “officially supervised”, like a man running up and down the countryside by himself faster than that Bolt guy.

Just don’t believe everything others say, but leave room in the possibility that it could be real.

642nd post: Kindle – 3 weeks later

It has been 25 days since the kindle arrived (Seemed longer to me) and in that time, I have finished reading 2 Harry Potter books, plus quite a number of manga volumes. These, however, form quite a small number of the amount I had already loaded on to it.

Since then, I had figured out how to take screenshots on my kindle.  How to take the screenshot varies on which version it is (press and hold the keyboard and menu buttons for mine). If you do it correctly, the screen would flash and the screenshot would appear in the documents folder when you connect it to the PC.

Of course, the Kindle has a hidden feature where you could view images: just create a “pictures” folder in the root directory. To make sure it is optimal for the screen, make sure the image is as close to 600*800 (3:4) as possible in monochrome, though images could still open if you didn’t do that. The loaded images would appear on the main menu in the same way as a normal ebook, but using the folder name as the title and, obviously, lacking the author area.

I recommend that you create collections if you are going to load a lot of books and images, especially if a group belong to the same series. Makes your life easier scrolling through the long list of books you have loaded.

When you delete a book or text files (you can download .txt files via the browser and would appear as a book), it would be removed from the device memory. But, if you remove a folder of images, it would disappear from the list, but still resides in the device memory. It would remain the the memory until you delete it via the PC in the same way you loaded it. A 150-page book rendered as image takes up about 20MB of space, versus just 4MB for a 800-page text-only (plus a few images) book. Quickly takes up memory if you have several of it. 20MB is after optimization for the device, so it would be more if you just put images as they were without any modifications.

When I said you could load images, I don’t mean that you could only put in photos from your camera (though you could if you want to), but being able to load comics onto this. I recommend Mangle to create a version that is the most suitable for reading on the Kindle 1-4 and the DX. The page where you last read would appear when you open it again.

American visual novels are usually in colour and you would feel strange seeing it in black and white. As Japanese comics are usually printed with just one tone of black ink, the technique of dithering is used to give the illusion of shades, and unprinted regions of the paper (which is usually white) for the light colours. This is where manga shines at, becuase the e-ink display is basically just white or black. Grey is achieved by alternating white and black in a region, with spacing depending on the shade of grey.

The image viewer is, however, not without its some odd problems:

  • You would need to exit the image viewer before putting it on standby mode or you would be stuck at a blank screen on resuming and would need to close and reopen again anyway.
  • If you enabled full-screen mode, you would need to disable it before you close the image viewer or the full screen mode would mysteriously be disabled (with the option in the menu assuming as if you are still in full screen mode) when you open another image folder. You need to “disable” and “enable” again to view it in full screen.
  • When you kept viewing previous images, part of the image you previously viewed is still clearly visible with the image you are supposed to be viewing overlapping that may be cut off (blank areas especially) by the said previous image. Switch to neighbouring pages to fix this. The same odd problem might happen when you just enabled full screen mode.

This image has been zoomed in

The Kindle comes with an “experimental” web browser that does support images and cookies. Though the keyboard isn’t really nice to type with, you could actually access twitter on this thing. (Redirects you to the mobile version if you try to visit the main site.) You can use the previous/next page buttons to scroll the pages, and he directional keys to select links and such.

Trying to visit sites like Neowin, or even this very blog, would cause the Kindle to crash and would have to restart it to get it working again. Too much things the Kindle couldn’t handle? Except when using for the first time, or just recovered from a crash, the last page you viewed would automatically load.

Crashes seem to only happen when I visit certain sites with the browser, but don’t make me talk about recovering from crashes.

I had brought it out and about for some days. The size is about the same as the iPad Mini. While reading on the train, I found no disruption reading it while the train enters and leaves tunnels during the day. On a backlit LCD screen, I found myself needing to adjust the brightness to comfortable see anything. Sometimes, the problem with these LCDs are the screen is too dim to see anything, when viewing in a bright place, but adjusted for a dark place and vice versa. On-screen brightness controls (as opposed to a physical one) that may be burred somewhere in the settings means that this is a pain to adjust.

If I had not discovered ebook and the e-ink display, I might had gotten the more expensive iPad just to read books since my iPod Touch is too small for it. Also, reading off a computer screen, even if it’s not a CRT screen, isn’t a comfortable way to read.

640th post: Kindle 4 (2012 version) arrived

Back in 21 December 2012, I ordered an Amazon Kindle from the US store, along with other problems that followed involving the delay of delivery due the holidays.


Anyway, it arrived at the delivery center closest to my home on Friday, 4 January 2013. I knew Saturday deliveries are only by appointment. The day it was delivered (6 January 2013) being a Sunday, I wasn’t sure if I should be expecting it to arrive since it’s the weekend until I saw on the courier’s tracking page earlier that day that I saw it being delivered. It was a good thing that I wasn’t planning to head out that day, though I did on Saturday.

The Kindle is packaged in a “fustration-free” packaging that uses minimal resources. The only things inside was the kindle itself, a microUSB (or was it mini?), and a card containing some basic information. (Why include a very long printed legal information anyway?)

I opened it up and was presented with several languages to choose from. (Japanese was not included, and is not sold at Amazon Japan either.)

Since the day I ordered, I have been preparing the things to load onto the kindle, like ebooks and such. Even before ordering, I had already accumulated quite a number of PDF files. I tried reading those, but reading it in an uncomfortable position or a display that hurts my eyes or on a tiny display (iPod Touch) isn’t an ideal way to read these things. I could print, of course, but onto a sheet of paper that I would look at only once isn’t exactly pratical or saving money.

This Kindle is the first device I own that uses the Eletronic Ink (e-ink) technology, though not the first to not have any built-in light. E-ink displays consumes energy only to change what is being displayed and, unlike other display technologies, not requireing energy to maintain what is being displayed. The slow refresh rate makes it impratical for use for displaying rapidly-changing images, and colour versions are still in the development stage, which is why its applications of use are limited to reading text or still images.

Reading on the Kindle is as sharp and crisp. Despite no backlight, it is still readable as long as there is light at where you are reading. I read this thing while on the train during the day, and it didn’t bother me when the train entered or leaves a tunnel while reading. This is usually a problem when I use other devices where I found myself having to adjust the screen brightness that is a hassle to get to since the controls aren’t hardware-based.

So how big is this thing? I could give you all the specific measurements, but even I found myself wondering how big the measurements provided is in actual terms. You would understand it better as “the size of a CD player”; larger than an iPhone, smaller than an iPad. The size of the screen is 6 inches.

I had considered getting an iPad just to read PDF files, but as I was searching about, I discovered eBooks, eBook reader, and the eInk display. Might have heard of those before, but never really thought much about it; partly because I don’t see these things in the eletronic store. What further prompted me to buy it is that the cost was at US$99, and the add-supported version added a US$20 discount. Then as I ordered, I noticed that I was looking at prices for the 2011 edition: the 2012 edition was US$10 cheaper. This meant that the final price was US$69 (not including tax and shipping). A few dolars cheaper does make a difference when the amount is converted to a different currency, with some of the amount going to the banks and MasterCard/Visa as fees. The lower the cost, the less I pay to them.

Reading the information of other ebook readers by other brands, they do not support displaying Japanese characters as text, despite saying that they have “support for multiple languages”. (It was hard finding out what those specific languages were.) Also, I know that the ad-supported version is targeted for the US market only, but since I already heard that the ads are non-intrusive, and the screensaver of the ad-free version is always the same and can’t be changed, I thought: “why not?”

Since I received this Kindle, I find myself reading more often than with actual physical books.

638th post: Update on Kindle Shipment

The Kindle I mentioned earlier has been delivered to forwarding service with US address at 5am on the 27th of December 2012 (JST).

The forwarding service took two “business days” to process it (sort it out from other people’s packages that arrives at the same time), and then another two “business days” to prepare to ship it to me.

In between these two events, it is held at their warehouse for up to 30 days (for free) so that I could wait for other shipments to arrive and ship everything from the US address together, which I didn’t have any. The state it is located in, Oregon, has a 0% state tax at the moment.

Unless the shipment comes with information regarding its value, you would have to declare its value (in USD) before you are allowed to ship it out. Then they charge US$11 (international shipping) + cost of fuel (based on actual weight or volumetric weight, whichever is higher) + “mandatory” insurance (based on some percentage of the total declared value of items you selected for shipping) – discounts. New users would receive a US$10 discount (which expires by the end of the month and redeemed manually) and, depending on the payment or the bank that issues your debit/credit card, you might have an additional discount that is applied automatically.

What is the problem I faced since the last post? I still have yet to receive it, and it’s still in Portland! Further delays is the weekend and New Year in between. Apparently, those days are not counted as “business days” I mentioned earlier! Adding to the confusion is that the US is in a timezone that is more than half a day behind mine. I finally see real progress when it’s finally being shipped via DHL now, though still in Portland at the moment. Scheduled date of arrival is 7 January 2013.

Will I use this forwarding service again? Maybe: for things not found at where I live where they don’t ship out of the US for some odd reason, but not illegal to import/export it. Otherwise, try to have it to ship directly whenever possible. Avoid using at the time where it’s known to have a lot of people using it, and with so many non-working days.

PS: Another separate order I ordered the day before I ordered the Kindle to be delivered via SAL has yet to arrive. It would be funny if I receive this before the Kindle as courier mail is supposed to be faster than normal mail.

(I didn’t count the numbering of this post wrongly: previous post is actually the 636th.)