eBook Reader Update

In a previous post, I looked at the Astak EZ Reader Book and what a great value it was for $259; invariably, Fry’s  put the Sony PRS-505 on sale for $269 a week later…

I was a Sony fan-boy many years ago, but years of Sony’s expensive proprietary standards and crappy desktop software slowly turned me into a Sony turncoat- but I  tentatively toyed with the idea of purchasing the PRS-505 just to be able to bash the unit and re-affirm the joys of the Astak reader’s multiple format support. 

I did purchase a PRS-505 today but I have ran into a few issues with my initial plan:

  • PDF Support on the Sony PRS-505 is native- and appears to be a bit better in some situations than the Astak
  • The Sony unit supports SHDC memory cards up to 32GB instead of just 4GB (and MS Pro Duo- but that is another story)
  • The Display is much easier to read- perhaps due to the 8 shades of gray vs. 4 on the Astak- or is the ‘20% brighter contrast’?
  • There is much more community support for the Sony readers (i.e. hacks and free software)
    MobiRead’s PRS-505 Dev Corner
    Calibre Planet
    PRS Customizer
  • It is much thinner and is more aesthetically pleasing than the Astak…


The PRS-505 supports three different view sizes (Small, Medium, Large) and even the smallest view is very readable:


PDF is supported natively- but it is handled a bit different than on the Astak.  The standard view is a full screen of the original PDF; the ‘medium’ and ‘large’ views are ‘re-flows’ of the text from the PDF, but in-line images are omitted:

This approach will work great for books that are mostly text- but not so great for technical PDFs (like motherboard manuals).  I tried a PDF of a fiction book and I was very pleased with the results.  The table of contents indexing is intact and I can use the directional keys (absent on the Astak) to jump to a specific chapter.

The Sony handles page numbers a bit differently than the Astak; Sony page numbers remain the same no-matter what size the font is- so a 313 page book is always 313 pages. However hitting the ‘next’ button on the Sony book takes you to the next screen- and it can take 2-4 screens before the page changes.  The Astak re-numbers the pages each time the font size is changed- and can often lose the location I was at during this change.  I think Sony has done it the right way.


The first thing that needs to be done with the PRS-505 is to re-flash with a custom firmware.  The PRS Customizer makes easy work of this:


Download the software, select the settings you would like and it will build a scripted firmware package that should be copied to a blank SD card (doesn’t appear to work on Memory Stick Pro Duo).  Simply copy the contents of the ‘sdcard’ subfolder created by the program, insert the card and it will auto-run ‘Igorsk's Universal Flasher v2.1’. 

Select #5 to ‘make a new image’.  After this completes, select #6 to ‘flash the image’.  Lastly select #9 to ‘Reboot’.  If the firmware update is successful, you will now be running your custom firmware (complete with custom icons- if selected).


I was looking to add the on-screen clock, but it appears that this is included in the build- it can be enabled/disabled by hitting ‘0’ from within the ‘about’ menu screen.

A very similar program to this is ‘Hack Builder’.


For eBook library management, I would forgo the ‘eBook Library’ program that Sony provides (which it has already locked up twice since I installed it!)- unless you are interested in purchasing books from the Sony eBook store in their own, special version of proprietary DRM- or you want to download one of the 500,000+ ‘free’ books offered by Sony + Google (which can also be downloaded without their software).

Instead, use Calibre- a very polished 3rd party eBook manger/converter. With this program one can drag-and-drop other book formats (TXT, PDF, etc) and pull in the associated meta information (via ISBN) from the ISBN database.  If you don’t know the ISBN you can either search for the book on Amazon or in the ISBN database.


It will also pull in book cover images from LibraryThing (after signing up for a free account).

After all the meta data is set the way you want it, you can either push it over in native format to the PRS-505, or convert it to a single file ‘eBook’ version (your choice of ePub, LRF or MOBI- the former two both work with the Sony reader).  There were some warnings about x64 drivers on the Calibre support page, but it detected my PRS-505 with no issues under Windows 7 x64.

I tried converting some PDF files to ePub and LFR and found it is much better to let the Sony reader deal with the native PDF format- in eBub/LRF format some of the tables were converted to text, images were dropped and the picture formatting was very random.

Once done properly, a new eBook looks near professional with cover art (either from LibraryThing or a custom image):

One very interesting feature of Calibre is that is can auto-download RSS feeds and convert them into indexed eBooks.  One built-in feature is Google reader; I entered my login and password and it pulled down 50 articles from each RSS I had in my feeds list.

The generated ‘Google Reader’ eBook has an index, summary pages and full news articles- with Images!  Once the feed has been compiled, it is automatically transferred to the eReader.  If you have a lot of RSS feeds, I would actually suggest creating an extra Google account and setting up a different RSS feed- less you end up with a 500+ page eBook of RSS info!

The pages can read via next/previous buttons and interesting articles can be ‘ear marked’ for later review (just like they can be in a normal book):

Calibre does not recognize the Astak EZ Reader, but the .ePub Google Reader file can be manually transferred to the device.  The results were less than spectacular:


The four-shade vs. eight-shade is very apparent and it also appears that the Sony reader does a better job of handling ePub format commands.

Calibre also has built-in RSS feeds for Business Week, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today- just to name a few. And although the PRS-505 does not have an integrated WiFi or EVDO modem, Calibre can provide you with a morning newspaper if you have time to dock your eBook reader before heading out.


Aside from that, there are independent developers are making games for the PRS-505:

image image



So in the end I was a bit torn; do I stay with the older eBook reader that supports every eBook format I could imagine, or do I go with the newer reader with a better screen, SHDC support and a fairly active developer community?   

Calibre was the program that made the deciding stroke for me; it gave me more control over my eBooks and allows me to organize them in the methodical , neurotic way that I like.

I still have 7 days until the return period is up at Fry’s for the Aztak- I guess it is a good thing that I always keep all packaging and scan in all of my receipts! (now I just need to flash it back to a normal firmware and find the 2GB SD card that it came with!)


Windows 7 ‘Start Menu’

I am a big fan of customizing the Windows Start menu to consolidate the programs into folders that make items easier to find (and yes, I keep my inbox devoid of all email that I am not presently working with).

In Windows XP and earlier, this was done by right clicking the start button and selecting ‘Open Folder’ or ‘Open All Users’; These folders were located in c:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Start Menu and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu. Using these two folders I could drag around/cut/paste/delete the icons to make my Start menu folder look like I wanted it to appear:


In Windows 7 the ‘Open Folder’ and ‘Open All Users’ options have been removed (I am pretty sure this was present in Vista). The actual ‘Start Menu’ folder location appears to have moved around a bit in Windows 7 (and possibly Windows Vista); The ‘main’ repository for the Start Menu items is located in:

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\

An individual’s start menu items are now located in:

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

…and there is another folder for ‘All Users’:

C:\Users\Default\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

I believe the later two are ‘legacy’ locations for older programs that insist on installing program items for ‘current user or all users’.


Windows 7 b7057

The Windows Beta builds have been circulating around the normal web locations for several months and I have ventured to try these on my Laptop and NetBook. I did try once on my main PC but it was personally rejected due to specific software incompatibilities; NeatWorks being as primary concern.

I mistakenly installed Windows Vista SP2 beta as a clean install from a MSDN ISO image- a mistake as SP2 beta is integrated into Windows and cannot be installed- such as when I want to install SP2 RC1 and I am told to ‘uninstall prior versions of SP2’.

Vista was having issues (routine Windows Leprosy- as it happens every 3-6 months) so I resigned myself to using Windows 7 as my primary rig. By the Lords of Kobol’s graces it appears that NeatWorks is not compatible with Windows 7! (or it could be that NeatWorks upgraded from v4 to v4.5 in the past few weeks). nVidia also announced driver support for Windows 7 so all the better.

Daemon Tools appears to not work with Windows 7; a quick Google search indicates that the free Virtual CloneDrive from SlySoft will do most of what I used Daemon Tools for- and it works with Windows 7…


New Windows Home Server

I went to Fry's this afternoon looking for a new case and a 5 bay SATA carrier to migrate my Windows Home Server over to a new system- but I chanced on a SuperMicro 743TQ-865B on closeout- for $85- This is a case that was originally going for $400 that I had drooled over- but found it to be way too much to justify the cost. NewEgg was selling it for $380- but again way too much money. Only the display was left so I grabbed a cart and had a Fry's salesperson write me up a ticket...


Once home, I began the long, arduous task of transferring all of my WHS data to staging location and then moving it back to the new server. Luckily I have been using a Promise NS4300N for backups and most of the data was already backed up (about 3.5TB of it, to be exact).

I purchased two new 1TB Seagate drives and built a RAID5 array with the existing four 1TB drives I had purchased for my WHS in the past. Once the build was complete, I had about 4.54TB available in a RAID5.

Due to limitations of MBR drives, partitions of larger than 2TB are not allowed- so I had to create a GPT partition to allow for the entire 4.54TB to be used.

This was acceptable to the Windows OS- but not very good for the WHS application. When I added the 4.54TB partition to WHS, it deleted the partition and re-created a MBR partition- allowing 2.0TB to be used for WHS storage and the other 2.6TB was resigned to 'system usage'. i.e. the system would not allow drives larger than 2TB to be added to WHS storage so it marked the rest of the storage as usable and called it 'system usage'- This is not what I wanted.

I read several blogs and this is normal for WHS as it was not designed to work with RAID systems. The blogs recommended creating smaller RAID groups of less than 2TB each. This was both impractical and undesirable when using 1TB drives as I would need to 9 drives to create three RAID5 groups- each having 2TB and giving me 6TB of total usable space (the other 3 drives would be allocated to the three RAID5s as parity data).

It also was not possible to create seperate 2TB partitions and present them to WHS as WHS looks at the disk and creates its own MBR partitions- ignoring anything over 2TB.

Additionally, I wanted to make the disk a dynamic disk so I would be able to grow the RAID5 if I needed additional storage in the future; not a good idea if WHS is managing the partitions and it suddenly grows by 1TB...

I eventually decided to leave the RAID5 as a stand-alone drive (i.e. not part of the WHS storage group). WHS uses C: for the system drive and D: for the 'data' drive so I made an N: drive as 4.54TB GPT dynamic disk.

The downsides of doing this is that I cannot manage shares on the E: drive via WHS and I cannot include this data in the WHS backup (which I found was not usable for NAS storage in the past). On the upside, I could still assign permissions as WHS creates local computer users.

WHS would be used for computer client backups for Tracy's and My PC and I would keep my pictures, music and user backups on the WHS storage disk. All other movies and videos would be stored on the N: drive.

I also added some single drives for WHS backups (of my music and photos) and to migrate my 'Mac Software' share from another single drive NAS (that wasn't very good as far as throughput goes):


I started off with a 150GB SATA drive for the WHS system drive, but quickly realized that the remaining 130GB of storage would not be sufficient for my backups; I was able to use Norton Ghost to clone the 150GB to a 1TB Western Digital drive I pulled out of the old WHS.

I did not want to waste the 1TB of space, so I put some one of my smaller videos shares on it (and since WHS creates a default 'video' share on the data drive, it seemed like a good idea), but his also filled up my 1TB drive fairly quickly (leaving me to purchase yet another 1TB drive from Fry's to balance it out). I considered adding the 1TB to my RAID5 but the new drive was a Maxtor (the Seagate drives were no longer on sale) and my RAID software would not allow me to add a seventy member.

In the end, I have eight 1TB drives and a dual bay external SATA storage


Now that I have the server configured with the RAID array outside of the WHS storage, the performance is MUCH better than it was before. WHS continues to write to a disk in the storage pool until it is full and then moves onto the next disk. If parallel file copies are made to a WHS share, this can cause delays as the write heads must jump around while trying to write to the same disk. If a file read is executed during this time, the accumulation of the two write actions and the read action make the heads jump all over the drive- killing throughput.

With the six platters all doing RAID5 read/write actions, several disk I/O operations can be implemented (and cached up for better execution in the RAID buffer) and performance is a bit better than trying to work with a single disk. Although I am not reaching full GB speed performance, I am averaging about 40MB/sec transfer speeds on large files across the network (theoretical speeds across a GB network could allow for up to 100MB/sec transfers -after allowing 20% for TCP/IP overhead).


Battlestar Galactica -Finale

And so it ended last night; four seasons of a show that I have come to love and look forward to every Friday night. It was a two hour finale that answered many questions and bid goodbye to old friends (and one dear old namesake ship).

A lot of people are complaining on various blogs that they were unhappy with the ending (and I must admit the last 2 minutes were a little cheesy) but there is a lot of subvert messages in the story- and it faithfully ties the end of the series to the original 1986 Galactica series (there was even a cameo remake of the original series theme as the Galactica sails off into oblivion).

The big deal about the story is that the audience is left to draw their own conclusions (and some do not like this)- such as who/what was Starbuck; but if you search through the series you will find indicators that this was the plan all along. The whole story arc was well planned and well executed (save for a few cheesy episodes here and there for character development).

I found the show to be a fitting end to things- for both seasons. I felt saddened at seeing the 'old girl' that had been with me since my childhood (be it in the 70s form or the 2000 form) as much as I felt sadness that I would no longer hear the stories of Admiral Adama and his 'rag-tag fugitive fleet' every Friday. I cried several out of sorrow and happiness as the characters broke out and went their separate ways on 'New Earth' and 'on the other side'.

It has been an incredible journey and I am thankful that I was able to witness it in its entirety.


Astak EZ Reader eBook

A few weeks ago I ordered a Kindle 2 from Amazon- and I have been enjoying it and I have been getting back into enjoying reading. I started off with a book I read many years ago- Dragonlance - Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Tracy Hickman. Since this book is not yet available for the Kindle, I had to find an alternate source that provided in in .txt format.

Reading is very pleasant on the Kindle, but it is also very limited- particularly by the formats that the Kindle can support: TXT, PRC/MOBI and AZW (Amazon proprietary format). Especially troubling is the lack of PDF format support. Of course, I can email a PDF to '@free.kindle.com' and receive a AZW format back from Amazon, but this is not the easiest thing to do and it often is mis-formatted (particularly where images are involved). I assume Amazon is trying the Apple iTunes approach by locking their reader down to Amazon formats- or very generic (TXT) formats.

I decided to look around at alternatives before my return period expires with Amazon; $380 for an eBook reader is still fairly expensive.

At Fry's there is a small assortment of eBook readers; two Sony models (PRS-505 and PRS-700), an Ectaco JetBook (JB5BK-EN) and an Astak EZ Reader (EB-06EZ).

The Sony units are $300 and $400; the later having a touch-screen (and a lot of glare) and were again limited to a few formats; BBeB (LRF/LRX), PDF, EPUB, TXT, RTF. The addition of PDF and RTF were good, but the PRS-700 is way over priced for what it does.

The Ectaco JetBook has a 5" VGA (480x640) screen (compared to a 6" 600x800 screen on all the other unit)- which instantly turned me off to the product.

My final choice was the Aztak EZ Reader (on sale for $250):


The Aztak EZ Reader supported a quite few more formats: PDF, DOC, RTF, HTML, TXT, WOLF, CHM, FB2, EPUB, LIT, PRC/MOBI, RAR, ZIP. The screen is about the same as the Kindle 2 and it comes with an assortment of accessories- USB cable, wall charger, 2GB SD Card- and a protective sleeve (which is and additional $30+ for the Kindle 2)!

I immediatley deleted the 130+ free books that were on the included card and began to copy over a variety of eBook formats that are available via Usenet. All of them worked well- including CHM help files. Several of the PDFs and other formats include indexes which are accessible via the '7' key on the Aztak.

After I found where I left off in the DragonLance book, I was able to easily pickup and continue reading. The forward/back buttons aren't in the best locations but they do function.

A label on the back battery cover indicates that the 'EZ Reader is the North American name for the Jinke Hanlin V3'; a visit to the Chinese Jinke web site confirms they are physically identical. A little further delving into the support web site finds that Jinke has a much more refined firmware and additional applications such as synchronization software, a boot screen logo maker and a WOLF format printer.

I downloaded the latest V3 firmware and followed the update instructions; extract the firmware to the root of the SD card, power off the reader and power on while holding down the v+ (volume up) button. After a few minutes the firmware was done and the system rebooted.

IMG_0418 IMG_0429
Default logo after firmware update Custom Logo

Things I didn't think I would like about the Aztak:

  • 4 color grayscale (vs. 16 on the Kindle 2)
  • a 200Mhz CPU (vs. a 532Mhz on the Kindle 2)
  • Only 3 zoom/font sizes (2 portrait, one in landscape)

In spite of my apprehensions the text is very readable and the page turns seem almost as fast as the Kindle 2.

A few things that I do like about the Aztak over the Kindle:

  • Ability to use any TTF font
  • SD card expansion (up to 4GB- no SHDC support)
  • Native PDF support

I was planning on loading my frequently used motherboard manuals (I rebuild systems on the weekend for fun) and the Aztak does a decent job of letting me view them:

IMG_0433 IMG_0435
A Motherboard Manual PDF Zooming in rotates the document 90 degrees

For $130 less, I believe I am going to return the Kindle and keep the EZ Reader. The Kindle may have an integrated wireless card and web browser, but it is very doubtful I would order much from Amazon. The Kindle may look better than the Aztak (and have a better button layout) but I will take the native PDF format support over the other features any day- and still have $130 left over.

The question now is what will I buy with the $370 credit I am going to receive from Amazon?


Samsung P2 v5.10 firmware

Samsung keeps pushing out updates for the P2 player; I am actually pretty impressed with the longevity of their support fro this product.

It appears that v5.10 firmware for the P2 was released in September 2008; I guess I am a bit behind the times... :o)


Microsft 2019

This is a future vision from Microsoft Labs titled '2019'; I guess they are not considering the end of the Aztec calendar in 2012? :o)

Very cool stuff...