Saturday, August 14, 2010


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

~Walt Whitman / Leaves of Grass / When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer
One of the best things about the night sky is that anyone can look at it. While this is quite obvious, some feel that only professional astronomers are qualified to look upwards to the heavens. That's not very true. Anyone can do it, even if you don't understand the mechanics behind the whole enterprise.

The following is from my window on Thursday night. The lovely crescent moon (specially commissioned for National Day) lies just below the bright Venus. Nearby Saturn and Mars peek through the atmospheric impurities, almost invisible to the naked eye but discernible through a DSLR camera on a tripod.

click = big

I have a computer planetarium called Stallarium which I highly recommend. Here are some screen shots that show what the lights are on this night.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Amazon Kindle 3 In Singapore

1) Updates
2) Preamble
3) How to buy a Kindle in Singapore
4) How to buy Kindle e-books in Singapore
5) Kindle pictures and shipment info
6) Calibre eBook management
7) PDF documents
8) Magazines
9) Usage in strong sunlight
10) Proof of residency email
11) Kindle 3 with Special Offers (NEW!)
12) Past newspaper mentions

Updated 13 November 2011: This post will no longer be updated. I'll continue the discussion at the new Kindle Touch entry.

Updated 28 September 2011: New Kindles! Starting US$79! This will really shake things up. I just preordered the Touch!

Updated 14 May 2011: I've just received the new Kindle with Special Offers. It's only USD$114; pictures below. I've also got a second Kate Spade Kindle case to go along with it.

Updated 24 February 2011: New Kindle advertisement, "The Book Lives On."

Updated 25 January 2011: My Kindle lighted cover has stopped working. Click here to read the refund story.
Updated 19 January 2011: Digital Life has a cover story on e-readers and the Kindle. There's just one thing. Hotspot Shield VPN is mentioned but I don't recommend it for the time being. (click = big)

Updated 17 September  2010: I'm getting reports from folks who are having problems with the Hotspot Shield VPN; it's not working for some reason. Do consider an alternate VPN. Amended buying procedure.

Updated 6 September: I received my Kindle 3! Updated price and took some new pictures with comments.

The book is one of the most ingenious inventions of all time. However, the book wasn't something that was created in one day. It has evolved continually starting with papyrus in Egypt then to Chinese scrolls then to movable type with the Gutenberg press. And it's now digitalised in the form of portable reading devices that allow you to read e-books. The best selling reading device now is the Amazon Kindle.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos just announced that sales of Kindle e-books have overtaken hardcover sales, and will overtake sales of paperbacks in 12 months. I just find that really astonishing. It's one of those things that you've heard about: things happen so fast in Internet time, and we're right in the middle of this revolution.

The next iteration of the Kindle is the new Third Generation device which is now USD139. (I bought the Kindle 2 for USD359 in May last year. What a price drop!) I've just pre-ordered the WiFi-only Kindle 3 after it's first shipment was sold out even before the product is released at the end of this month. I am now queuing in the second wave and will update this post when that happens.

Here are some reasons I've chosen the Kindle 3 instead of other reading devices:
Best online shopping company in the world: Even before the arrival of the Kindle, I've always bought books from Amazon. They are always reliable, have a great selection and website with lots of customer reviews.

Excellent support: Amazon's customer service support is legendary in the industry. I've called them a few times myself and have consistently received the highest level of service. It offers 30-day money back and price drop guarantee and I believe e-books are returnable too.

Best reading device: The Kindle is meant to 'disappear', a design philosophy that is very rarely adopted by product designers and suggests a sublime understanding of how it should be made and positioned. The user interface is intuitive and easy to use. The latest generation has eInk that improves contrast by 50%; very close to real paper, so they say. It's also probably the most user-friendly e-Ink reader.

Largest selection of books: The Kindle store doesn't claim to have every book there is, but my impression is that it does have the largest selection. I recently bought The HP Phenomenon and it could only be found in the Kindle store.

Best Laugh: One of the main reasons why Amazon is my top choice is due to CEO Jeff Bezos. (Just like how Steve Jobs is god to the fanbois lol) Jeff has one of the heartiest laughs I've ever heard. Most reports also suggest that's one of the most down to earth billionaires ever. I am happy to do business with folks like him.

In the meantime, if you're interested to see what the fuss is about, Bezos has a wonderful interview with Charlie Rose and it's really worth a look to see what makes Amazon tick and where the book market is going in the near future. The full 40-minute interview is here.

How to buy a Kindle in Singapore
Here are the steps I use. Do note that Amazon doesn't officially support Kindles in Singapore. There are instances where buyers were found to be not from 'authorised countries' and their accounts were disabled. Your mileage may vary. Caveat Emptor. Other than that, things have worked really well for many local Kindle users.
  • Create an Amazon account if you don't already have one.
  • Go to the Kindle page and buy yourself a Kindle. It will be automatically linked to your Amazon account. I prefer the WiFi-only version rather than the 3G+WiFi version. The added 3G isn't really necessary because worldwide surfing isn't guaranteed. Also, additional costs will be incurred for the transfer of documents if 3G (AT&T roaming) is used when there is no WiFi.
  • Ship it to a third party mail forwarder. I use Borderlinx who will then ship it to Singapore. Comgateway seems fine too though I've not tried them myself.
  • When you get your Kindle, you need to register it if it hasn't already been registered. After connecting to wifi at home>settings, register it by filling in your Amazon username and password at home>settings>register.

Some preparatory steps to take before buying books from the Amazon US store
  • Firstly, do NOT buy books using your Kindle's Whispernet/3G/WiFi. Don't buy from Kindle apps too.
  • You need to buy books using your Internet browser on your computer with a VPN installed. Use a VPN such as AlwaysVPN to make yourself situated in the US, in spirit. You may turn it off later when you're done purchasing. I can share my AlwaysVPN account with local Kindle users. Do not use Hotspot Shield; it's known not to work sometimes.
  • Exit your Internet browser.
  • Switch on your VPN. Open your browser.
  • Go to Manage your Kindle at the Kindle product page.
  • Go to 'your country'. Change your country to US if it's showing another country. Use any US address.
  • Buy a gift card with your local credit card, say USD50. Email the gift card to your email address. When you re/ceive it in the mail, apply the gift amount to your Amazon account. 
  • Go to your account, 'manage payment options', and erase your credit card info if you have any credit cards associated with . (Do this also whenever you buy something at Amazon using your local credit card.)
How to buy e-books from the Amazon US store
  • Again, do NOT buy e-books (even if the books are free) using the Kindle's Whispernet/3G/WiFi.
  • Ensure that you have sufficient funds in your account. If not, buy more gift cards and apply them to your account.
  • Exit your Internet browser
  • Switch on your VPN, open your Internet browser and go Amazon. Find your book and click 'buy now with 1-click', 'deliver to your Kindle'. If you choose to wirelessly send it to your Kindle, you should receive the book in less than a minute. You can also choose to download the file and transfer it to your Kindle using USB. If asked for the billing address, use any US address. Not that this address will not be used because funds will originate from your gift card balance.
  • Switch off the VPN
6 September update: I've received my Wi-Fi Kindle 3! The cost is USD139 (Kindle 3 WiFi) + USD60 (Kindle Lighted Leather Cover) + SGD 24 (Borderlinx shipping) = around SGD 300. The screen is just totally unbelievable; I can't see the difference between a printed page and the new E-Ink Pearl screen. More pictures below with additional comments. (click = big)

Free Amazon shipping (5-9 days). The shipment arrived at Borderlinx in 4 days, way sooner than Amazon's conservative figure.

  The fee charged by Borderlinx was SGD23.42. There were no additional GST, import fees etc. DHL's tracking system is GOOD!

This is quite interesting. First time users of E-Ink will try to peel the instructions sticker from the screen. Problem is: it's not a sticker; it's the screen!

The Kindle Lighted Burnt Orange Leather Cover is a thing of beauty; very well constructed and the light is just fantastic! The price (USD59) is also...uh... quite fantastic!

 The browser is fast. Obviously it's meant for casual browsing but it does work quite well.

A comparison  between Kindle 2 and 3. There is no contest: the black of the K3 is really much blacker.

11 September 2010 update
Having used the new Kindle 3 for a few days, I must say that it's wonderful device. Because my first Kindle was a Kindle 2 with no wireless (it's a CDMA device for the US market), the addition of WiFi is making a huge difference.

Firstly, I only need to use the VPN to buy books and the book get transferred wirelessly to the device. Also, if you looking for the 'classics' and wish to use sites like Gutenberg, you don't even need to go to the Amazon store. Just use the browser and directly download the .mobi file into the Kindle and immediately read it on your device.

A reader commented on the use of Calibre which allows you to manage your ebooks and to convert them to the Kindle format. The increase in functionality when one pairs up the Kindle with Calibre is astonishing. Calibre (a bit like the old Palm Avantgo) allows you to push rss feeds into the Kindle magazine format and this can be done wirelessly. It works really well!

23 September 2010 update
A reader sent me two PDF documents for me to try out. My impression of the Kindle reading was that yes, it's technically possible to read PDFs, but in reality, due to the size of the screen, it's not very feasible. After my investigation today, I've come to a rather surprising conclusion.

The screen of the Kindle 3 is so much better than the Kindle 2 that even the tiny words show up very well. Reading PDFs is very possible now! All pictures, click=big. The words are a little fuzzy as I wasn't using a tripod when I took these pictures and the lighting wasn't so good. While standard 'text pages' like these look good, magazine pdfs may not because the pages are bigger. YMMV.

At the bottom of this page, there are some 'missing words' which will appear when we magnify the screen or rotate the screen to landscape mode. 


Here we see that the dictionary works on an unconverted PDF document. 

Here is annotation in action. Highlight the words, then add your own comment.

28 September 2010update
I've managed to buy a magazine sold at the Kindle store just to test it out. The New Yorker costs USD3 a month so it's quite all right. I believe we cannot use gift cards to buy magazines so a workaround is to use yet another (!) credit card called Entropay. This is a 'virtual prepaid' credit card and the commission fee to 'load money' into it is 5%.

If you're not keen on paying for magazines, an alternative is to use Calibre and download magazines/news websites. So far I'm able to download Reader's Digest for free. Anything that is available for free on the Internet can technically be downloaded as an ebook using Calibre. It's very powerful.

3 October 2010 update
Here are more pictures of the Kindle in strong sunlight (click = big). There used to be a 'page-turn lag' issue but it has largely been resolved with the 3.0.2 software update.

 The content here are downloaded using Calibre which is pretty versatile in using RSS feeds and turning the content into 'magazine format'.

 Scrabble is a new Kindle game that is a joy to play.

This is Nikon PDF directly loaded onto the Kindle without modification.

1 December 2010 update
Some readers have asked for advice on how to proceed if they bought ebooks without using a VPN and are asked by Amazon to provide proof of residency. You can ignore the email. Going forward, you need to use a VPN and then go to to change your country to US. Please use a VPN when buying anything, free or otherwise, at the Kindle Store. If you don't have one, email me, I can share mine with you.

14 May 2001 update:
Amazon has released a cheaper version of the Kindle 3 with Special Offers. It now comes with advertisements. The good thing is that the ads are completely unobtrusive. The screensavers (example below) are also ads now, and they are interesting because they keep changing! It's the Kindle I'd recommend now.

On the main index screen, some space is used for the advertisments. This replaces the space used by 1 book listing.

If you want to see the advertisement, you'll be brought to another page.

Previous related entries: Kindle 2 in Singapore (historical information on how to get the Kindle 2 here)

Unitasking and the Kindle (the concept that's opposite to multitasking, and mentions of Kindle in the local press)

Digital Life article: