postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: State of the Unions


It's no joke that the state of worker's trade unions around the globe is dire, and in many cases, labor unions are being dismantled or outright destroyed. This week's results from the recall election in Wisconsin USA, where Republican Governor Scott Walker's win to keep his seat, was just another nail in the coffin for a healthy & unionized workforce in America.

This blow to workers in Wisconsin, who now have a diminished membership and very few rights left (as far as collective bargaining and the right to strike goes), hit me hard, and on a personal level. You see, my very first job was a unionized one, working as an apprentice meat packer in a frozen food factory back in the early 70's. That's when unions still had teeth and were aggressively fighting for fair wages, better working conditions, and essential benefits for worker retirement and health. Jimmy Hoffa was still alive and kicking, and the number of unionized workers in America held at about 30% of the workforce (down from 35% in the 1950's). Today, that percentage is less than 12% across the board.

Now depending on your political stance, you may or may not agree that worker's unions are essential, or even relevant in today's modern age of global capitalism and world-wide market forces, which seek to squeeze every dollar of profit possible from any business venture, regardless of the toll taken on the worker. Fiscal conservatives in America have long ago decided that labor unions, hotbeds of left-leaning Democratic thinking & political funding, had to go. And now that Wisconsin has fallen – a testing ground for conservative thinking – the rest of the country is sure to follow. 

As a younger man in the workforce, I myself was not so naïve to think that belonging to my Local 101 was going to be an end-all to all my work-related problems. It was easy to see that the Meatpacker's Union that I belonged to was mobbed up and corrupt as a fake two-dollar bill. Union dues constituted a large chunk of my paycheck, and it was clear that workers were just pawns in a larger game of power and control over local and state politics, as well as fodder used when battling with business owners. But it was a choice of the times that was the lesser of two evils: to either have some say with employers, or to have no or little say when it came to getting your fair share of fruit from one's labor. 

But then I got a better job, one where the hacking of dead meat was not required, and I could go home every day with clean hands and not even a crinkle in my suit and tie. I had worked my way through college and joined IBM, where the cubicles were neat and tidy and you could work all day or night and hardly break a sweat. All the benefits were there (at some level), and today I now rest retired knowing that some pittance of a pension is coming my way each month. 

At least I got something...even if just a pittance.

It's clear to me (after the fact) that being unionized would have given my fellow IBM'ers and I a better deal in the end. But throughout the 80's and 90's, the logic went something like this: either work for a company or organization that allowed unions - and then trust in your union leaders to negotiate the best for you – or - work for a company that banned unionization in return for the promise that the company would take care of your needs. There was no middle ground, no other real alternative, you were either unionized or not.

And now, at least in America, the choice is "not" for 93% of private sector workers. The only folks still left unionized are government workers, where about 35% of those folks have some form of organized representation in the workplace, but with 65% without. Yet government employees have very limited collective bargaining rights, with right-to-strike banned in most cases, and influence on politicians is on the wane as membership drops to record lows. 

For Nepal, I think this trend in the state of the unions in America is foretelling, regardless of my limited experiences here: feeling the heat of many a burning tire in the street and reading the newspapers regarding the many labor battles with businesses, as well as following the campaign to ratify (in full) ILO Convention 87. Workers are still struggling here, all within the confines of awful choices and limited support from the government, and in the middle of a global economic meltdown. 

In short, the global floor of social protection (as described by the ITUC, which represents 175 million workers around the world) is disintegrating plank by plank. From the Eurozone to Kathmandu to Wisconsin, austerity measures now seem to outweigh the need to stimulate growth in employment. 

So I pose these questions dear reader: is there a better way... a rethink on the way we have chosen to organize as trade unions, or not? Are there really only two choices in this day and age of Internet access, iPads and smartphones? Shouldn't we - as a collective global citizenry - be thinking of remodeling the ways of business and employment? In other words, can't we come up with something better than the institutions we have now, and that have clearly failed us?

Isn't it time for a more global human (and humane) union movement? You tell me.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Windows 8 Release Preview


The Windows 8 Release Preview was made available for all to download and install this week, and follows the first public preview dubbed The Windows 8 Consumer Preview from back in February of this year. If you didn't catch my review then, here's your chance to catch up on the latest developments in the WIN world...

There's a lot coming down the pike for Windows users, as Windows 8 represents much more than an update to Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Based on what I see in this week's preview, Microsoft is attempting to re-invent itself into a tablet-friendly OS provider, as well as raise Windows to be on par with it's biggest rival: Apple's OSX Lion / Mountain Lion. And from where I sit (in front of the new Metro UI), they might be able to pull that off...

I won't go into all the new features of WIN8 (there are tons), but here is my top-5 list that I think you might enjoy:

1. Windows to Go
Windows To Go is a new feature (advertised but not yet working) that allows you to boot windows from a USB stick or hard drive. The implication here is that you can take your windows system, complete with programs and data, and boot up and run things on any other windows machine. Or, you can have different Windows system configurations (say one for your kids, or work vs. play, etc.) and then can just boot the system you want to work with at the moment. Mac OSX has had this feature forever, and it's the one feature found on Apple computers that previous to Windows 8, was found no where else.

2. New Metro UI
Metro UI is the new interface that has been slapped over top of the Windows desktop that you have known and loved since the days of XP. Essentially, the Start Button has been replaced by a colourful Start Screen, which is "gesture-enabled" (meaning you can swipe and pinch things as you do on your smartphone) and has big blocks of content easily arranged and in your face. For example, a synopsis of your most recent Mail message is one block, the last Facebook update or Twitter is in another, your next appointment from your calendar is in another, and so on and so on – just swipe left forever. And if you have a touchscreen, like the one my pal Sandee from Logix sells on Butterfly Road, you can do all this exploring without a mouse or trackpad. Microsoft is banking on Metro UI to become addictive, so much so that you go and buy a Windows Tablet when they arrive later this year, which will also use the same interface.

3. Wrapped in Ribbons
For anyone who has used a newer version of MS Word or Excel, you either love or hate the ribbon metaphor found there. The "ribbon" is that part at the top of an app that makes finding features and functions faster (depending on your mind set: old school vs. adaptive). Well, that ribbon is now found in many other Windows apps like Explorer. I'm a fan, how about you?

4. One Sign-In Works Everywhere
Also new in WIN8 is the ability to use your Microsoft account (HotMail ID/Password combo, for example) to sign into any computer and get access to all of your content and settings. This is great for folks who have several computers at work or in the home, and want their cloud content (mail, bookmarks, music collections, Sky Drive files, Windows Store purchases, etc.) wherever they are, regardless of the machine they are using. 

5. Better Family Safety
A security centre has been created (dubbed Family Safety) that gives concerned parents more control over what their kids do on their computers, and Family Safety has options to monitor their activity as well as flat out control what they are doing (both internet connected and not). 

In addition to my top 5 (yours may differ), another feature worthy of note is the all new Windows Defender, which is now a real-time anti-virus program, so running out and buying a Norton or other Anti-Virus program right away is no longer required – one comes with!

To try out Windows 8 ahead of the planned final release late this year, download the preview @ windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/download, or if you are Mac user, fire up the latest release of Parallels Desktop for Mac, and that will help you install a virtual version of the Windows 8 Preview. That's what I did, and even as an Apple dude, I really like the improvements that I see so far. 

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postheadericon ECS: #TwitterMadeEasy!


Twitter is one of the most popular websites in the world, and is also the de facto social networking tool for messages under 140 characters, with over 140 million users tweeting at a rate of 350 million per day. Twitter is used to send out a Facebook-like status message (tweet), and to follow tweets sent from your favorite celeb, friend, retailer or news outlet.

Initially started in 2006 as a way to SMS a text message to a small group of friends, Twitter quickly expanded to allow users to send links, pics and videos out to the entire Internet population, to the point where any major event in the world was being tweeted at alarming rates. Take for example the 2010 World Cup, where fans tweeted at a rate of 3,000 tweets per second within the minute following Japan's win over Cameroon. This new social behavior now repeats everyday for every major newsworthy event on the planet – as well as not-so newsworthy events as well...

Pears Analytics (a US market research firm) reports that 40% of tweets are "pointless babble" while another 38% are conversational in nature, with other smaller percentages of the traffic being self-promotional (6%), pass-along info (9%), spam (4%), and hard news (4%). The impact of such chatter in our daily lives now ranges from annoying & irritating to inspiring & rallying, as seen in the recent Arab Spring Rebellions where millions were tweeted into action. 

But what if you are not already one of the millions being followed on Twitter, or following another? Here is a quick guide to getting started, and some tips on following your favorite celebs, writers, or organizations:

#Step 1 – Get A Twitter Account (https://twitter.com)
Setting up a twitter account is as easy as setting up any other website account, where all you need is a verifiable email address, and perhaps a profile pic and Facebook account for connecting the two together (i.e. your tweets can also be posted to your FB wall or FB pages). 

Once you have an account, the fun really begins, and you can either download the Twitter app for your smartphone, or begin tweeting / following from your computer's browser window – you choose, as the interfaces are pretty much the same. But remember, each tweet that you send out can only be 14 characters long.

#Step 2 – Learn The Basics
There are just a few new terms to learn to become prolific on Twitter, and the first one is the hashtag (#). Hashtags were originally used to make searching in the flood of tweets easier, for example entering #ladygaga in search would show you other tweets marked with that same hastag. Your own twitterings can then be added to the pool of Lady GaGa tweets by adding that same hashtag to your own tweet, for example "I like #ladygaga" Think of hashtags as keywords or tags, although the use of hastags is evolving in the twittersphere.  For example, the hastag #FF stands for Follow Friday, where every Friday, you can use this tag to recommend to all others who to follow, for example, "#FF I'm recommending @wangle because he posts really good blogs about Nepal".

Then there is the @Reply tag, that basically gives out your (or someone else's) Twitter screen name. For example, all of your tweets will be automatically prefaced by your profile name (first,last) @ screen name. Clicking on the @ symbol always shows you the profile of the tweeter, and depending on the app being used, you can quickly add them to your "following" list, send them a private message (DM) or even start a twitter chat with them. Another good-to-know twitter word is RT (retweet), which is like forwarding an email in the olden days – for example tweeting "RT @friendsname I like #ladygaga" tells your followers that your friend tweeted you and likes Lady GaGa as well. 

For more help with the basics, don't forget to visit the great tutorial site at https://support.twitter.com.

#Step 3 – Have Fun With The Rest...
Once you have an account and you are following and tweeting others, there is even more fun and usefulness of Twitter to be found. For example, now whenever you see a twitter "follow me" website icon, a simple click or tap will add that blogger or website to your "following" list. You will immediately start getting tweets from that person or place, and conversely, by clicking on a "tweet" icon you can instantly send out a link for the web page that you are reading to all of your followers. The link sent is called a short URL, as remember, you only have 140 characters to tweet with, so a long URL just won't do! If you need to create a short URL of your own, no problem, just navigate to www.tinyurl.com, which takes the longest of links and makes them 16 characters or less – perfect for tweeting!

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Another ISP Smackdown...


It is almost one year to the day that I reviewed Broadlink vs. World Link vs. NTC Internet services (as all three were installed in my small home office) - and if you recall - Broadlink smacked down the competition with it's faster speeds, cheaper rates, and a unique roaming service. But that was a year ago, and in Internet time, that was almost an eon ago.

Nowadays, from my small off-ramp on the Internet highway – Dhobighat – I can get cable Internet service from my cable TV provider: Subisu. I've been using their Digital TV line to get clear reception on my new LED TV set - works great, although it's not a true digital service without an "HDMI out" from the digital box. I would not have thought of calling them to add Internet service to my home network if my Broadlink service had not slowly slowed down over the course of the past year. But that's what happens when an ISP gets wildly popular and the company is not equipped to keep up with demand.

So I sent Subisu an email (don't even try to call) and within a few days there were two technicians out to the house to do the installation. The first thing they did was to test the existing cable line to see if it could handle the Internet right along with the TV signal. It could not. By the way, my existing cable was strung thru a window, as apparently the company does not own a drill machine, or does not trust the techs to bring one out during cable installations. After all, who knows what they might drill through...

But these techs really knew their stuff, and after measuring the signal strength, they determined I needed another line into the home - this time under the door! Once the cable was laid in, the cable modem was easily connected to my wireless router, and within a few minutes, I had a Subisu home network up and running at 512 kbps speed. 

So how does the Subisu Internet cable service compare to a Broadlink Wireless service? Well, here ya go:

Smack! On Installation, Broadlink And Subisu Both Lose
Even thought Broadlink is a wireless provider, I still have a cable coming through a window – with one end attached to a wireless receiver mounted on my water tank, and the other end to a router in my home office. Over the course of this past year, I have had the receiver (called a C1 Device) pointed at various Broadlink towers - hoping to get a consistently reliable signal. Well, we are still searching for that mythical tower of 24-hour non-stop service...

In the case of Subisu, since the signal strength of the existing cable was not strong enough (that being split and inserted into various home orifices), I now have TWO lines, where hypothetically there should be one. And I can't close my balcony door. So as far as the physical installation goes, both companies lose. As for installation pricing, both are comparable: on one hand you pay for cable and a modem, on the other, cable and a C1 device.

SMACK SMACK! Subisu Wins On Delivery
The 512 kbps Subisu service (Nrs. 5000 per month, unlimited + TV) is currently outperforming the Broadlink 960 kbps delivery (Nrs. 6000 per month, unlimited) by at least 30%. For example, when tested against servers in America, Subisu comes in at almost 1000 kbps (1Mb) while Broadlink at only 700 kbps, on average. A quick call to Broadlink confirms that their systems have been taxed lately by demand and new equipment installs. But to be fair, Broadlink was providing the rated speed of 960kbps for most of the past year.

Triple SMACK! Subisu and Broadlink DRAW on Service and Support
The techs from both companies are top notch, and I was surprised that teams sent out from both orgs came knowledgeable of both Macs and PCs, and how to connect them to the Internet without a fuss. The online user "dashboards" that control your account are near identical - and easy to figure out, although it looks like Subisu copied Broadlink's dashboard so closely they forget to take out their competitor's banner ad...just log into your Subisu account and you see a Broadlink banner ad!

KO BY DECISION...Subisu!
So to sum up, if you are looking to upgrade your Internet service with something in the 512 kbps to 1Mb range, you can't really go wrong with either Broadlink or Subisu, with the following caveats: 1) neither company seems willing to drill holes for your cable lines, so you may have to live with cables snaking in through door jams and open windows, 2) to pay for your service, Broadlink offers online or scratch card (which is nothing short of a pain in the butt), while Subisu just sends out a babu on a bicycle to collect your payment when due, and 3) you may get better speeds at lower cost with Subisu, at least for right now, until Broadlink sorts out some bandwidth problems.

But what's really crazy about finding a reliable, 24x7 unlimited service ISP is that you may find yourself in my shoes: where you need TWO. For now, I am keeping both lines from Broadlink & Subisu, so that when one company has a temporary calamity, my home network just flips over to the other line still standing.

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postheadericon Tech Talk: Graphically Speaking


Imagery created using smartphones and personal computers seems to be one of the most popular of activities these days, judging by the amount of photos and videos posted by my friends & family on Facebook.

Even my wonderful Nepali wife, who is not at all a geek, edits her photos in iPhoto and posts them to her online albums, using special effects known only to the most pro of photo manipulators a few decades ago.

But today's easy-to-use yet highly sophisticated apps make it possible for anyone to easily imitate an Ansell Adams, or even a Picasso. And I mean anyone, to include toddlers toting iPads. But the majority of photo and video app purchasers are a bit older, yet just as enthusiastic as a 3-year old when it comes to putting their fingers in the digital paint and trying their hand at this timeless method of self expression (think the Cave Paintings of Lascaux). Future generations of anthropologists will have a field day with the digital walls we are filling today, with everything from pet poodle doodles to sophisticated renditions of Rembrandts, all done without any horses giving up a single hair for a brush, or a single crush of ochre needed to create a rainbow palette.

We truly live in an amazing time, graphically speaking...

My favorite finger painting tools of late come from Ambient Design, based in Auckland New Zealand. They sell a series of cross-device apps (for Mac, PC, iPhone & iPad) tagged ArtRage, which allow users from age 3 on up to explore painting and sketching like never before, and these tools are priced from NRs. 160 to NRs. 4000. Their top of the line app, ArtRage Studio Pro, is really a re-incarnation of Corel Painter, the once leader in natural painting software for decades past. 

I remember getting my first version of Painter back in the 80's (about $900 USD), and thought the packaging brilliant – the CDs came with a printed user guide, all crammed into a real 1 gallon paint can, where you had to pry the lid open with a screwdriver. This was a great marketing touch that could not be duplicated in today's world of App Stores and digital downloads. Put the point of the program was to replace paper and brush and messy watercolors and oils with something the more clean zeros and ones in binary code. But over the 12 versions of Painter, I never really felt I had mastered this app, as the learning curve is even steeper than with the full version of Photoshop. Even with an expensive Wacom tablet and expensive digital airbrush accessories, I never quite got the hang of it...

But this week I saw a post of a friend's toddler dabble made in ArtRage on an iPad, and decided to check out the grown up version, ArtRage Studio Pro - NRs. 5,040. Within an hour, I was off in watercolor heaven; happily dry brushing my way into an Andrew Wyeth stupor. The interface and user interaction here is incredible, and can be figured out in a matter of hours, if not less in minutes. There are stencils and stickers that can be laid down on a myriad of canvas choices, and of course, every brush known to man has been recreated in digital form, turning your touchpad into a veritable Rajput painting machine, but without the tedious weeks of crushing up gold and conch shells.

Another feature in ArtRage makes it ideal for the budding post-traditional natural brush artist: layers. True virtual layers are represented here, one for the paper used, one for tracing (where you can import a photo or other image to sketch overtop) and unlimited layers of paint and materials layers over top of that. And these layers are compatible with Photoshop, so you can bring all these layers into Photoshop for further manipulation - or go the other way  - and bring your Photoshop layers into ArtRage and combine photographic material with an infinite number of brushed effects. This back-and-forth workflow works flawlessly, as does everything else in this nicely designed app.

But of even more interest is this future possibility of digital painting; once true 3D printing is made available to the masses, we will be able to print out, say, our own interpretation of "The Song" by Childe Hassam and then hang that directly on the wall of our living room – in short, creating real canvas and oils from zeros and ones.

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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: Another (Happy) Brick in the Wall


Growing up is hard to do, as all of us who have gone through this process know first hand. As children, our limbs literally grow centimeters overnight, and our minds expand exponentially faster. It is quite a challenge for parents and educators to keep up with the voracious development of any child, and this has always been the case, no matter where one grew up.


Unfortunately, during my early childhood development in America, it seemed like my parents and teachers were just too burned out to even try and keep pace with my growth spurts, both emotionally and physically. I always wore pants too short and was given puzzle games too simple to keep me puzzled for more than a moment. 1960's public education in the west had already begun its decline, spiraling downward into the morass it finds itself in today, where young students are hardly safe in the classroom, fighting off sexual predators and gun-toting classmates, right along with the struggle to learn the three R's (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic).

Yet there is good news in this part of the world, as my totally unscientific study shows: Nepali children are still wonderful, and are getting a good education if enrolled in school. Of course, Nepal still has the problems of child slavery and cruel corporal punishment (to name a few), but considering the alternative of a western-style education: spoiling, sexual abuse, and doctrine indoctrination, I know which style I would choose if I were a parent today. I would enroll my kid in Little Angels KTM over Miramonte Elementary School, California – any day of the week!

For me, Pink Floyd's words still ring true today for youngsters in the west, as it did when I was 13 and high on acid, whilst boinking my younger "girlfriend":

"We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall."

This not-so quiet song of exasperation is what I grew up with, but not so with the kids in Dhobighat / Lalitpur, who where not depressed at all this New Year's day while redecorating the neighborhood with a little bit of paint and lots of laughs. It didn't take a lot of prodding for Alice Anne Gordon, a local expat, to round up the kids and local shop owners (Swayam, Sanjol, Priya, Binita, Alisha, Ukesh, Ritika, Suhanjan, Amrita, Nita, Nira, Sanjita, Jayraj, Amisha, Yunisha, Urmila, Suraj, Sudan, Suman, Sujan and Sudhir) for a bit of mural painting. These troopers turned some drab old walls surrounding the dhara into uplifted works of art that just makes everyone smile as they walk by.

Its this spirit of youth and beauty that I see everyday in Nepal – from kids mural painting to rows of cleanly pressed school kids in uniforms singing songs – that give me hope for the next generation growing outward from this country. I know the UNICEF indicators don't look so hot on paper (for example, the Primary School Survival Rate to Last Primary Grade is only 62%) but my gut tells me that with kids achieving literacy at a combined boy/girl rate of 82%, things can't be all that bad. I'd say of my American classmates, that at least 2 in 10 couldn't read or write either by graduation, and in fact, 2 in 10 did not even survive high school without being raped, beaten, drugged or killed by their own or other's hand.

So here's a shout out to all the children of Nepal: keep up the good work with that glowing and optimistic attitude, listen to your elders, and continue to live a safe and healthy life, for the rest of your blessed life. We are all out here rooting for ya!
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postheadericon Tech Talk: Dancing with Personal Finance Apps


Well, for a long time I've avoided computerizing my personal finances as 1) I've had very few rupees to fiddle with after paying bills, and 2) I absolutely hate fiddling. But the idea of a personal finance app is so appealing to a neat freak like myself, I decided to give it a go and report back to you on the results of my testing.

First, I looked at the big gun in the arena of personal finance software: Quicken. You've probably heard of this, as Quicken has been around since the days of DOS, and I actually used this package back in 2004 on a PC. It was pretty bad. And things only got worse for maker Intuit when the UK version was discontinued in 2005 (leaving those users stranded) and during 2009 when major bugs in this application were found introducing errors into peep's checkbooks (as if balancing wasn't hard enough). 

But I decided to test out Quicken Essentials for Mac (USD $49.99) to see how things have progressed, and I was decidedly impressed with the gorgeous interface and helpful inline wizards planted there to help you quickly get a budget created and track your transactions. Unfortunately, Quicken Essentials is a stripped down version of Intuit's PC offerings: Checkbook, Starter Edition, Deluxe, Premier, Home & Business... and more. So just deciding which full-featured package to buy was enough to make me want to forget about money and go ride a motorbike in the countryside. 

After quickly giving up on Quicken, I decided to try one of the apps raved about on all the forums: iBank -which won design awards back in 2007 and seems to be the PFA of choice for mac users. Again, we have another pretty interface but with all the features you would expect: multiple accounts in multiple currencies, checkbook reconciliation, online banking (US Banks only), with portfolio and investment tracking (also US-based), plus an iphone app (USD 4.99) that allows you to enter in expenses on the go, and automatically sync up with your machine at home. I found iBank to work very well, until I started throwing Nepali Rupees into it, and mixing things up with local bank accounts and accounts that I have abroad. In short, my totals with mixed currency transactions became totally hosed.

As I am unforgiving of any accounting software that produces errors, my trial with iBooks ended there, and I moved on to what seems to be the only competitor left: Moneydance (USD $39.99). Now when I first opened up Moneydance, I was not blown away by the interface; it looked more like the excel spreadsheet that I have used for years to manage my finances - but the more I used Moneydance, the more I appreciated the lack of colorful eye candy. After all, this is software for numbers, serious numbers...

Moneydance does all the things listed above for iBank, but it does the mixing of currency extremely well. The dashboard lists your exchange rates of the day, and you can easily change the rate and currency for any transaction that you make. As with any good personal finance package, a budget can be quickly created by looking at your transaction categories and tags. Forecasts for the coming year are easy enough to generate, and everything seems to work without a lot of fuss and muss. Well, almost everything...

At time of writing, I still haven't been able to get the free iPhone app to sync with my laptop-based Moneydance. It seems the problem has been known for over a year, and the maker "The Infinite Kind LLC" has promised a better mobile app coming soon. But perhaps you would have better luck on Linux or Windows, as this same app runs on all popular platforms, and all your data is interchangeable between operating systems. However, the android app (HandyBank) that syncs with Moneydance will cost you another USD $4.99. But that app actually works.

After using Moneydance for a few hours to set up my checkbook register, download my 401K investments, and configure both my Nepali and foreign bank accounts, I was very pleased with the results. I now feel I have a grasp on every rupee that I currently have in my virtual pockets, and I can see ahead into the future enough to know exactly how much more I need to make ends meet. What more can you ask from this non-sexy, no-nonsense software?

But before the music stops, I want to mention one current trend in personal finance apps: to get rid of the app altogether, and to manage your finances in the cloud, or in other words, from a website such as Mint.com. Mint is ad-based and free, and here they will try and sell you financial services and recommend banks based on your transaction history. The whole idea is so off-putting, I didn't even bother to sign up. After all, what would I do if the Internet went down or the power went out? I guess I would be right back to guessing how much money I had in the bank.

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postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: My Royal Enfield ...


It's a cool Nepali April morning, about 6 AM, and I just woke up so I wouldn't be able to see far down the road even if the fog didn't exist - fog that hangs on you like the round of beers downed just a few hours ago. But it's time to head out again; it's another Poker Run and Rendezvous with the Himalayan Enfielders.

As bikers go, this group is not so raunchy as their western brethren, but certainly as loud. There's a hundred or more bikes gathering downtown, revving up for the annual ride, this time the destination is Pokhora and the Enfield Basecamp Bar and Grille there. I can almost hear them from Lalitpur, but I'm too busy trying to find my gloves.  Where did I put them? It's been months since I've been on my bike.

My 2004 Bullet sits out in the yard, looking rather ragged and neglected. All the other boys take pride in their ride, me, I mistreat my Bullet like a cruel jockey whipping his steed over the finish line, only I don't race – unless it's to get to the department store before closing time. But I've gotta clean her up a bit; there's oil dripping from the pan and the mirrors are coated in months of collected dust. It's embarrassing to have this recreated classic looking like it's been sitting still since 1964. 

I don't get out of the house much, as there is little motivation for a retired old guy like myself, unless it's to walk the dog, who has a heck of a lot more interest in the city streets of KTM than I do. While he seems to enjoy the hubbub of the daily toll taking place, I'd rather be sitting on my balcony watching the hawks hunt for marmots, or the laundry flapping in the breeze. There's nothing more inspiring than watching the strong arms of Nepali washerwomen getting work done, as I am sitting around doing frack all. 

But this once-a-year ride is something all together different than the menial ride around town. It's a trip to the outer reaches of my existence - a trip into the royal hills - an adventure in time and over bridges that you wonder how they stay standing. The Poker Run is really a ride into history, on the back of history, and over historical paths treed upon by generations of folks that could not have imagined a 500cc machine roaring through their village - as just 38 years ago there wasn't a highway, just a mule path.

We follow the same path as the Gorkas took on their way to join the British Army, and to return home after many decorated years of service. And just a few hundred meters off Prithvi Highway, little has changed since. It's always about here that I get lost in this world mostly passed over by the digitalization of the modern world. There is no need for a laptop, or even a smartphone. A cell signal is a luxury, as is anything else from the industrial digital world outside. 

Whenever I am on this ride, just once every few years, I think of these soldiers, who left their own military Enfields in motor pools, to return home to the more tranquil pool of the local dhara, and to simple rice meals served on mats, instead of that standard army chow. They went from the locomotion of the industrial age, back to the stone age, where everything (including rocks) were pounded into tools and food by the hands of simple men and women, who knew little about the wars of the world.

What they must have felt, returning and knowing what they did about the outside world, during a time when western strangers into Nepal were limited to the likes of Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and his adventurous wife, who were here shooting footage of Gorka back in 1957, and had to walk on foot the entire way. Now, I feel like they must have – an alien from outer space (but complete with rocket technology) - as I am about to roar around terraced hillsides that flank massive gorges, millions of years in the making.

I can only conclude each ride I take back in time here, that those grand soldiers, knowing the destructiveness and suffering of the modern world, did all they could to prevent the inevitable invasion of modernization into such a peaceful land of their own. Unlike my forefathers, who attempted to recreate England in America, I romantically dream that the Gorkas tried to prevent the cruel intervention that has happened here of late.

And I know it must be horrible of me to think it right that the Prithvi washes away at points each and every monsoon, just as the rope and wood bridges would vanish each year until metal ones were strung. I think like this each and every time I pull on my riding gloves, hike up my leathers, and straddle my Royal Enfield Reverse Time Machine – all in preparation to ride back to an era when life was so simple it hurt, and more beautiful around each and every turn. 

read more "Kuire Ko Kura: My Royal Enfield ..."

postheadericon ECS: Gadgets to Be (Smarter)


Do you ever think about what's coming next, especially after you plunk down tens of thousands of rupees for a gadget? Well this short review is more about what comes long after that, several generations into the future of your favorite device...where they all have become "smart." 

First, let's take your phone that you hold in the palm of your hand these days. Now imagine it's not, with many smart phone functions instead built right into your specs or cool shades. These devices are already in development and monikered "smart glasses," as demonstrated by the Pixeloptics Company this year at CES. Smart glasses not only autofocus your bad eyesight, but in the future our specs will replace all of our device displays, with the first no doubt being the display on your phone. How about that for hand's free driving! 

Now image a piece of ordinary paper next to your new Galaxy tablet, but it's not really a version of papyrus at all, but instead, smart paper! That's right, researchers are now in the process of making a tablet so thin and flexible, it's nothing more than a sheet of paper  - that instead of writing on, you tap and swipe and scroll. For many of you, electronic ink may already be in your hands, in the form of a Kindle or Nook, but many companies are now investing in the R&D of a Kindle or Nook that actually feels like a thin sheet of film or paper. Just think, those coffee cup rings will just wipe right off!

With all these smart gadgets to be, what about smartness itself? Researchers like Joseph Turian from Université de Montréal, believe that very soon we will have "deep learning" for all of our devices, from automobiles to xylophones. Deep learning is nothing more than extreme advances in artificial intelligence, such that "machines that learn" are being built in labs world over. These new algorithms are capable of learning from input, and adapting it's output based on what the program has learned. This will enable cars to avoid crashes and your credit card to become your personal shopping assistant. If you have Apple's Siri, the personal assistant on your iPhone 4s, then you already have witnessed the very beginning of devices that adaptively learn. Skynet may be closer then we think...

Well, when thinking about all the gadgets to be, all you have to remember is one word, "smart." 

read more "ECS: Gadgets to Be (Smarter)"

postheadericon ECS: Behind The Screens...


If you haven't been living under a rock these past few years, you know that the latest whiz-bang gadgets to hit the market are really cool tablets and smartphones. But what makes them so? Here is a quick look at these devices behind the screens... 

Under the brushed metal and glass cases of our new phones and tablets are some pretty amazing inventions of late: tiny but powerful microprocessors, high-resolution touch screens and teeny but large-in-capacity memory modules. Basically everything you had in your old desktop, but shrunk down as if popped out from the classic Disney movie, "Honey I Shrunk The Kids." 

For example, powering the newest of Samsung Galaxy phones this year will be quad-core processors like non other ever seen in a phone before: the Exynos 4412. This chip runs at 1.5GHz and with its four cores rivals the computing power of many laptops on the market. With all this horsepower in a phone, you would be right of wondering how your phone's battery will last more than a few hours, but that's the amazing breakthrough: Tech giants like Apple and Samsung have figured out how to infuse the power of a laptop into a smartphone or tablet processor, and still get 7-10 hours out of one charge. 

Innovations in tablet and phone displays are also driving up sales of these "mini-computers." Apple's new Retina Display introduced in phones and iPads this year comes to the mind's eye - in brilliant clarity! The new 9.7" screen in the third generation iPad has a display resolution of 2047 x 1536, and that puts over 3 million pixels on display. To put this innovation into perspective, that's twice the resolution of your new LED HD TV, and 50 times the resolution of the first computer monitor that I used back in 1984. So it's no surprise that eyeballs are flocking to these devices for picture and movie viewing, as well as easing eyestrain when reading paper-based magazines and books. 

Coupled with the amazing displays we see in today's devices, we now have gyros and accelerometers built in, which you may remember from science class in school are fundamentally different things. But when combined into one unit, can do some pretty amazing tricks. For example, your newer smartphone not only knows where you are in relation to any spot on earth (gyro), it can track your real-time movement from one spot to the next, and even measure the speed at which you are travelling (accelerometer). And of course, this opens other possibilities even when standing still, as your device can now be tilted and moved about, acting as a game controller or whatever else the whiz-bang programmers can think up. 

Another grand innovation and underlying technology making your smartphone or tablet zing these days is what's been done with mobile memory. You already know about how flash memory cards, like SD and SD Micros, help you store your photos and videos while not inserted, but the built-in memory inside your tablet or phone (LPDDR) is what allows for near instant response when you hit the power button or tap on an app. This memory uses very little power, gives off of hardly any heat, and transfers data twice as fast as the memory found in your laptop or desktop today. The size of these chips has been steadily decreasing (1GB fits on your thumbnail), while the market is ever increasing: over $16 billion USD made in just that year alone.

Even the outside of tablets and phones has been graced with some amazing tech in this new age of mobile computing: amorphous alloy technology and Gorilla Glass™ are combining to make your device impervious to scratches, smashes and corrosion, as well as making them light like feathers. Amorphous alloys used in devices today (and more to come in the future) have twice the strength of Titanium. And with the malleability of common plastics, tomorrow's devices using this tech will become near indestructible. 

So the next time you pick up your gadget, think about this behind-the-screens look, and imagine what's to come - as even what I've mentioned above is fast becoming obsolete.

read more "ECS: Behind The Screens..."

postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: DOG, The Most Perfect...


I have dogs on the brain today, but they are always on my mind anyway. For example, the other day the word "neoteny" came up on my word-of-the-day screen saver: 

neoteny |nēˈätn-ē| noun Zoology
the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Also called pedomorphosis. 

Come to find out that this retention of juvenile features in the adult wolf is what made dogs in the first place. We as human beings created the dog by stealing wolf cubs from their mothers back in the cave-day, and raising them as our own. By stealing the pups from their wild state, and then breeding them in a domesticated setting, we in essence, created the tail-wagging, droopy eared, and somewhat domicile creature that we love and pat on the head today.

When you think of it, it was caveman technology at it's finest... we created a companion in 999 BC just as Sony did with the AIBO back in 1999. The AIBO was a robot dog that ran off a memory stick, but was in production for just three generations and is now defunct. Compare that with the real dog, breed through countless generations, and you can see why the living-eating-shitting-barking variety has endured. It was made using better technology: the genetic manipulation of a species through domestication. In other words, we patiently molded a biological life form into a format that closely fit our needs of the time. 

This active crafting of a life form has changed over the years, from producing dogs that work for a living: hunting, herding, protecting – to dogs that do nothing for a living outside of looking pretty when tucked inside a pocketbook. Dogs, once used to drive the cows home, are today more often seen working in Hollywood than out on the range. But the neotenic development of the dog did have some interesting twists and turns, and reverse engineering was also employed...

For example, breeding the domesticated dog back with wild wolves produced a more wolf-like variety, and created the German Shepard along with other larger breeds. A longer snout, more alert ears, and keen pack behavior was breed back into the domesticated dog by crossing them with the original model: real wolves. 

The "Nepali" Shepard that lives in our house is a shining example of how ingenious humans are when it comes to shaping the world they live in, instead of just letting things be. This man-made creature is just about as programmable as the Sony AIBO was, only you can do so without the use of a wireless device and a laptop... just natural voice and finger gesture commands will do. Krypto also has adaptive learning built in, something yet to be created using silicon chips and cheap plastics. This model also has a storage capacity of about 3,200 bytes (about 400 words), and has GPS built in. The memory capacity of the dog may not sound like much when compared to your iPod, but dogs manage that memory millions of more times efficiently. 

The differences between a robot and a dog are not all that much outside of the superior artificial intelligence employed. Krypto has free will, something Sony was never able to reproduce. For example, when out walking Krypto, he calculates the easiest and safest routes back to the house. If I signal to use a route that is less efficient and more dangerous (i.e. there are more threats and less interesting trees) he pulls in the other direction, stubbornly. The "heel" command in this case is first ignored, and then as his neotenics take over, he capitulates with a look that expresses, "Why are humans such dumb asses?" 

It's that look, those eyes that express such exasperation at his Alpha leader that make me pause. Sonny, the humanoid robot of "I, Robot" fame, gave Will Smith that look quite often during the movie when Smith's character Del Spooner was doing something rather stupid. And in this way, my dog often makes me feel pretty darn stupid. Like when I throw perfectly good food in the trash, or try and walk straight thru a pack of barking street dogs late at night. 

My dog also gives me this look when I stay up all night typing, staring at screens that make little sense, when both he and I know that we should both be sleeping. And when complete strangers come to the door - he just can't comprehend my lax attitude at such a potential threat – come on, bark already, he seems he would say to me if only his kind were programmed to speak. 

But as the ages move on, perhaps someday dogs will gain the ability of speech with our help. There is already a dog on YouTube that can say "I Wruve You" quite convincingly. Perhaps all that is needed is some bionic assistance, in the form of an artificial voice box with the right neural implants to make that so. (Note to researchers: please don't tear open living dog brains in order to figure this one out – that would be cruel). 

But as the human species moves forward, dragging other species along with it, it would be interesting to see DOG as they will be in 500 years or so. Will technology be such that canines along with primates and other mammals have the ability to be programmed right along with our other iDevices of the future? Can humans use the hand of God, so to speak, to create a domesticated dog so advanced that they will be able to tell their masters to "frack off" if need be? 

Krypto would appreciate that function right now, as he looks to me with that expression that says, "Come on, you're late for our walk, get off that damn computer already!" 

read more "Kuire Ko Kura: DOG, The Most Perfect..."

postheadericon Tech Talk: Isn't it time for an in-your-face interface?


This week I began testing the new OSX Mountain Lion, which is Apple's next incarnation of cat that powers your Apple computer (Snow Leopard or Lion, most likely), and one glaring aspect popped out at me at the end of this grueling session: not much changed.

It's like the biggest software giants on the planet are producing innovations in interface design (the part of the programming that we see) about as fast as a snail can run. I don't get it. Companies like Apple and Microsoft have armies of programmers at their disposal, and they literally are forces, with chains of command and rigid protocols, most marching lock-step to commands communicated through Wall Street.

Instead of sweeping changes warranted by the sale of almost uncountable smartphones, tablets and computers, we get different colored icons or gestures on screens that we can't touch, but look like it would be cool if we could. Changes to both Apple's OSX and Microsoft's Windows 8 are miniscule if compared to the changes that "could be" done... And this small amount of change every few years is inexplicable, even for someone as myself, who spent over a decade building IBM screens that once faced millions.

I can't imagine what they are thinking now, all those youngsters in Redmond and Cupertino. Do they think that "we as users" like having so many passwords that we need software to manage them? Do they think that we actually enjoy searching through billions of web pages just to read the news in the morning? Do programmers imagine that we are satisfied with our sorting through millions of files just to find a baby picture of Uncle? 

No, they can't be that cruel...programmers can't be to blame. They must be like soldiers during war, the lowly Private First Classes, who want to end the insanity, but are powerless to do so. They are just fodder for the cannon – and ultimately expendable. At IBM, I felt sad for the lot of us. 

It has to be a group dynamic – the larger the group, the more professional, the more funded, the more potential – the less is actually produced as far as radically new approaches go. Corps are conservative by nature. For example, after three generations of software development, OS screens look like any other, and don't really invite us in, or allude to any chance of having a good time.

Coming from dorm rooms and out of back-room parties is where the masses really get something that they like to play with and use. Facebook and Zynga have figured out how to capture our attention and eyeballs, where they stay glued to screens for hours on end. This is something that not even cold hard cash will draw us away from - it is a virtual heroin. We need it more than a shower – this just in from a major US Poll. What is on our screens is terribly important to us, even if the Help click is totally useless, who cares - we want the juice, without squeezing very hard.

But for us old [BLEEPS], we've seen Apple do a Cityville 18 years ago when they rolled out eWorld, which cost USD 8.95 per month for a semi-social service that ran between June 1994 and March 1996. It looked like my city in Cityville (a deserted outpost) or my dead farm in Farmville. eWorld never did evolve 'cause along came AOL (You've Got Mail) and eWorld imploded into dust in a tech instant. So goes the software industry, one second you are MySpace, the next you are lost in the space-time continuum of commerce, ready to reappear via the butterfly effect, or so it seems. But Cityville is eWorld done better, decades later and for free.

What eWorld wanted to do back then (when the mobile phone was no smaller than a brick) was to create the illusion that your computer screen was something from real life, tied to your life, and ready to become your personal assistant, or friend, or TV, or whatever you wanted the little beige box to be. Then the Internet gave our screens even more personality, it gave us real people, live or in pictures and video (much of it illegal or distasteful) – we love it! But unfortunately, all our operating system's interfaces (like Windows XP) just  give us headaches and indecipherable error messages – complete with blue screens of death! We don't get what we want, which was a virtual world designed by ourselves, and that is easy and fun to use – with lots of different things to do.

Granted, what you look at today on computer screens is an improvement over what we had 20 years ago, but do we have the patience to wait for something really cool, like an Apple Cityville on Steroids, in essence, a virtual reality computer portal built by the user? Or is waiting 18 months for a blinking icon that tells us it's mom's birthday really blazing the way forward? I don't think so.

Large dysfunctional families can produce a lot of rotten children, and we have seen our share, tech-wise. MS Vista will remain one of the most retarded in software development, and was quickly replaced by something less disappointing – Windows 7 – working but looking pretty much the same as before. And as OSX Lion is about to become the next Vista, shoved under the corporate carpet just a year or so after release, we are going to be left with abstract interfaces that are mediocre at best, especially when compared to real-world interfaces. We are also left knowing interfaces could be better, but who will make them so?
read more "Tech Talk: Isn't it time for an in-your-face interface?"

postheadericon ECS: Top EBook Sites, On The Cheap!


So you just plunked down tens of thousands of rupees on a new eBook reader, and you are ready to fill your device with millions of pages of literature, comics or just plain fluff, but holy cow - look at those book prices!

EBook stores like Apple's iBook Store, Amazon's Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble eBooks are all great places to shop, but books there are going to set you back, on average, at least Nrs. 800 each. They also require that you have an International credit card or PayPal account to complete the transaction and download the book to your reader.

However, the web is full of sites offering, "free downloads" of eBooks in a variety of formats to fit your new eBook device. The only catch is that many of them are uploads from readers who are violating the IP and Copyright Laws of the land. Yet, there are many works in print and now in eBook format that are, as they say, in the "public domain" and ok to distribute electronically or otherwise, you just have to know where to look...

These legal and free sites are all of varying quality and offer the eBooks inconsistently in format - but if you can live with that, then there are tremendous savings to be had and hours upon hours of good reads. So here is a short list of sites that should get you started on filling up your own personal library with some of the greatest free and legal books available:

Gizmo's Freeware (http://tinyurl.com/446places)
Gizmo offers legal software as well as free eBooks on their well-organized site that has consistently been in PC Magazine's list of top 100 sites, year after year.

Here you will find book collections listed alphabetically or by genre. Actually, this site is an aggregate of other sites vetted by the moderator tagged mr6n8 at Gizmo, and he says this about the links provided, "I have tried to make certain that all of the eBooks at these sites are legally available for viewing/downloading.  However, it is possible that I have made a mistake."  

Mistakes withstanding, the links here point to the vast majority of eBook repositories of works in the public domain, as well as to author's site who give their permission to read and share their publications without payment. The genre links go along the expected lines: Biographies, Business, Comics, Computer & Internet, Horror, Mystery, Romance, etc. This is a great place to start if filling up your device with classic works is paramount.

Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org)
This website is from the very first producers of eBooks, and has indexed over 38,000 titles in various formats, some meant to be read online but many meant to be downloaded to your device. There is no registration required, but donations are happily accepted.

Here you will find a decent search tool for finding books alphabetically or sorted by popularity and even by language. While most books are in English, there are a fair number in French, German, Finnish, Dutch, Chinese, etc. and even a few in Latin and Esperanto, in case you are a student learning another language.

The site has "bookshelves" - just as in a brick n' mortar shop – where you can find virtual shelves containing Children's Books as well as Banned Books, plus 120 or so other categories. Once you find a book of interest, the site offers handy tabs for download formats, a short bibliography, and social interactions such as Like to Facebook and Tweet to Twitter. Most eBooks come in ePub, Kindle, Plucker, and QiOO Mobile for easy compatibility with various reading devices.  

ManyBooks.net (http://www.manybooks.net)
This website is rather unique, as it allows registered users to create and share their own bookshelves with others, as well as add comments and reviews of the books that they read. ManyBooks has over 29,000 titles in more formats than most sites I've seen, to include Rocketbook and Sony Reader versions. There are even formats there for antiquated PDAs like the Apple Newton, if you happen to have one of those still. This site also has a "Random Book" selector and you can sort thru some selections by book covers in the Cover Image Gallery. But outside of the eye candy, you will find all the expected ways to search: by author, genre, and title.

BooksInMyPhone (http://www.booksinmyphone.com)
This website differs from others as its dedicated to the reader who likes to use their ordinary mobile phone to read books, instead of a dedicated eBook reader like the Kindle or Nook. The books are formatted for many mobiles on the market like the Blackberry and Nokia, and the books can be found and downloaded directly to the phone when connected to the sister site: mobile.booksinmyphone.com. Users can SMS links of good books to others via their mobile, so friends too can "share the love" with each other. It's not clear how many books they have catalogued here, as the font used on the website is tiny and very hard to read if you’re an elder like I am.

GetFreeEbooks (http://www.getfreeebooks.com)
This popular website is very much like ManyBooks.net described above, but is filled to the brim with other items besides free eBooks: Blog posts, Latest News & Articles, Tips & Tricks, and a section on Tools & Softwares will appeal to the eBook enthusiast on many levels. 

In addition, members of this site are uploading their own works everyday, and you can even select to be tweeted when your favorite author completes a new book. This seems to be the premiere place for indie authors to share their works and communicate with their reading public. It's also a great place to find out about the latest in eBook hardware and apps, as well as to find other essential eBook reading advice. 
read more "ECS: Top EBook Sites, On The Cheap!"

postheadericon ECS: Kindle Fire


The next renaissance in digital media consumption is sure to be the one that puts an “e” in front of every book, and in this case, the leader in this tech may not be from the company that put an “i” in front of everything else. In other words, Apple is not the one leading the way this time – Amazon is.

E-books have been around for a while now, although with the lack of decent reading device, penetration into the reading populace at large has been less then revolutionary, despite e-reader sales in the tens of millions. But Amazon has plans to change that with the impending release of the Kindle Fire, a device that looks to be just what the reading public wants in an e-book device.

But to better understand the new device, one has to understand a bit about the company that is manufacturing them: Amazon has long been an igniter in the realm of reading, with Amazon’s online book ordering service dominating the playing field...to the point of pushing other book distributers asunder, and selling paper books in the millions per year (with revenues in the tens of billions).

Take for example Borders Books, once a conglomerate of over 600 stores and 20,000 employees, now history - due in fact to Amazon’s amazing success at selling paper books online, and negating the need to ever leave home to buy a book.

Yet this year Amazon has posted another amazing statistic: more e-books sales than paper book sales! For every 100 paper books sold in 2011, 115 e-books have also been sold. For the first time in human reading history, people are favoring electronic versions of books over the old-fashioned paperbound book.

Industry analysts attribute this shocking switch to many factors, but one contributing stands out amongst the crowd: Amazon itself. Just as Apple revolutionized the way we purchase and listen to music, Amazon is doing the same for the way we purchase and read books. Following the playbook left by the late Steve Jobs, where he often said, “It’s not about technology,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is playing the same game, and instead of rolling out technology, is rolling out a simple user experience.

Now for most of us in Nepal, this new user experience is a bit hard to grasp, and could be for some time to come. First off, one needs a credit card to make a purchase on Amazon.com. Then one needs a Kindle device to read any book purchased. The good news is that this experience is possible through Harilo.com (A Nepali website offering ordering and delivery from anywhere in the nation), and here are the prices in Nrs:

Original Kindle - 8,506
Small, light & fast with Wi-Fi

Kindle Touch - 10,856
Touch screen with audio

Kindle Touch 3G - 15,029
3G connection to Amazon, for free

Kindle Fire- 21,289
The works, with color and more (not available for order until 11/15/11)

The experience goes like this for all Kindle users, with many new features for the Fire described later:
You unpack your new reading device, charge it, and power it up.
Then you connect the Kindle to the Internet, just as you would any laptop, phone, or PC. The Kindle is then direct-connected to the Amazon bookstore, where you can browse from millions of titles - some free, but most costing anywhere from Nrs. 781 to 1172. You can view previous reader’s comments and reviews before you make a purchase, just as you would do on the official website.
You purchase and download the selection using your international credit card, and off you go for a read. Kindles, depending on model and amount of onboard microSD memory you have, can store well over 200 books.

Now what makes the latest and greatest model, the Kindle Fire, so impressive is that this device turns the idea of a dedicated book reader on it’s head, and instead, gives you more of an iPad-like experience for ordering and reading books – as well as doing other tablet-like things to boot.

First, the Fire is the only color LCD using e-ink technology, which makes reading hours on end doable for the average pair of eyeballs. Second, the Fire is not just an e-book reader; it’s really a tablet like the iPad or Samsung Galaxy, only the Fire is just 7” worth. The Fire is also feather-lite, as compared to most all other tablets, so that means you can hold it like a paperback well into the night. And thirdly, the Fire extends itself as a game device, music player, and viewer for over 100,000 movies and TV shows – as well as magazines and web pages as well with the all new included web browser app.

All for just under Nrs. 21,288.57 (includes Harilo.com fees).

Why so cheap, you wonder? Amazon (like Apple) is after your heart and soul when it comes to electronic media consumption and has decided to sell the Fire under cost. In other words, they are subsidizing the hardware in hopes that you purchase the software (in this case: the books, magazines, games and applications).

It’s a bold move, but one proved profitable by the Apple iTunes store, which is now the biggest retailer of music in the world. With the Fire and a huge media library already online, Amazon hopes to do the same with everything else left out there without the little “i” in front.

read more "ECS: Kindle Fire"

postheadericon ECS: Top 10 Device Myths – Debunked!


There is a lot of misinformation out there that only gets worse the more you google up facts about your precious computing devices, so here is a list of my top 10 myths (and truths) that often go misreported or are misunderstood.

1. Impatience kills, or does it?
You are in a rush, but common thinking and multitudes of warning messages tell you that pulling out hard drives and pen drives from your computer will destroy your precious data and ruin the computer, but is that really so?  And what about just pushing the big red button to instantly shut down your work, instead of waiting ages for the "Shut Down" click to gyrate your box and close your computer gracefully?

Well as it turns out, it depends on what type of computer that you have.  Because of the way that an Apple computer handles its files, repeated and abrupt power-offs (as in the case of loadshedding without an invertor) can mangle the system bad enough to warrant a software repair. However, in tests done with Windows 7, no amount of abrupt power-offs or yanking of pen drives was ever found to be harmful, outside of error messages from your system. So, Mac users want to have a copy of Disk Warrior handy, which will fix any such mangling in just a jif.

2. Macs are safer than PCs, malware-wise
This urban tech legend is actually true, as statistically speaking, you are less likely to become part of a Russian Bot-Net or get phished into some scam if you are using an Apple computer, but common sense is still required, even if Anti-Virus software is not. The one scam that has suckered Mac users is ironically called MacDefender, a phishing scam that gets you to buy fake anti-malware software for your Mac, just adding insult to injury once you realize you've been duped. (PC users note: up-to-date anti-malware is absolutely essential.)


3. Airport Security will fry your data like eggs
Not that I would trust most of what the TSA says about anything, in this case, believe them when they say today's scanners are safe for hard drives, memory cards or whatever. Multitudes of tests have been run, and modern media can be safely scanned. Conventional film is another matter, but who carries that around anymore? Just leave your mason-jarred cupcakes at home, and expect your baby's diaper to get inspected instead.

4. Do Specs really matter?
For those fretting over a new tablet, laptop, or computer, here's a tip: forgettaboutit if you find yourself pouring over device specs like they were answers to the meaning of life. i5 or i7? 16mb or 32mb? 2.4 GHz or 2.8? To save you a lot of time and headache, just follow this simple rule of thumb: buy the latest and greatest of whatever it is that you want, at the price that you can afford, and then be happy. For those that need the specifics, focus on reviews posted on sites like tomshardware.com or pcmag.com/reviews for info on full system performance.  Btw, all Macs are living proof that lower-spec'ed machines can work just great – no worries there.

5. Defragging & Partitioning hard drives is something you should do
Let's take defragging first; unless you are a professional video editor or someone with a huge multimedia library to maintain (as in terabytes), you can forget about the torturous defrag. It takes hours, and you will never see the benefit. Partitioning is indeed another thing, and the rule there is to partition your computer so that your data is separated from your system and applications. So for example, PC users can have c:\windows and d:\data that enables them to do sane backups and restores as needed. It's good practice for Mac users as well...just don't forget to regularly make clones of your partitions to external drives.

6. Big Brother is watching, so you had better watch out
This is a bit sticky, and opinions go from tin-hat conspiracy theories - where Big Brother is watching intently - to attitudes like, "What the heck, I've nothing at all to hide. My recommendation is to go down some middle road, and try not to put so much of your activity "out there." Downloading pirated software from torrent sites is not exactly legal, and from a tech standpoint, is easily traced. Whether or not anyone here is doing the tracing here in Nepal is an open question...or in other words, would your ISP report on you if asked? I made a small tin foil hat from left-over takeaway wrappings, and I keep that in plain sight as a reminder: big brother may be watching.

7. Turning off your devices when not using is a good, green idea
Nepali conventional wisdom says turn off all appliances when not using, as there isn't a whole lot of electricity here to waste. Western culture often thinks otherwise, where IT departments recommend never turning off anything computerized, perhaps in fear it won't ever start back up, and that would require a service call...but Nepali wisdom wins again, as turning computers on and off really is no big deal...they won't break in that way.  So power-down everything in sight if you don't need it running.

8. Never letting your laptop battery die will shorten it's life
Some of my friends have laptop apps that tell them they have run 30 hours, and it's time to let the battery drain. Actually, all those apps really do is to calibrate your onboard software that measures the battery in the first place.  Some folks also think that today's batteries have "memory," and the battery needs to be cared for like a mental patient. But the truth of the matter is, today's laptop batteries need no maintenance whatsoever - just top it off whenever you have loadshedding hours to do so, and then forget about it.

9. Fancy power strips are a waste of money, and cheap Chinese ones will do
This is one that I could rant on about for hours, as it's really dangerous to plug in anything here. Hi-tech appliances are not made to work well here in this jungle of electrical wiring and dubious standards of service. But good news on that front, as Belkin-branded power strips are available on the market for just a few hundred rupes more. Ya gotta get them if your devices are to have any hope of living a long and useful life in Nepal. Never mind the Nrs. 50,000 of insurance that comes with - what you want is a stable strip that can withstand a few shocks, and keep those surges from getting to your sensitive power supplies. Macs are notorious for burnt-out power bricks that will just ruin your day – in a flash!


10. You don't need a good Internet connection 24x7 with today's devices
This is my favorite myth debunked, as I have so many friends in Nepal that think they can go buy a fancy new device, say a tablet or an iPod or a new macbook, and not have a home internet connection of some substantial speed. The costs of a good Internet connection (256kbps and higher) needs to be factored into even the simplest of iPod purchases these days. More grown-up devices (PS3, laptop, flatscreen TVs, etc.) are even more dependent on the Internet then ever before. OS Updates, new apps, new YouTubes, new news, etc. are all things that need to constantly stream down while you are sending your life's story up to Facebook.
read more "ECS: Top 10 Device Myths – Debunked!"

postheadericon Kuire Ko Kura: On Pharping Puppies


Everyone loves a playful puppy, yet in Kathmandu Valley, over 80% of all pups born die a horrible death before reaching the age of one. Malnutrition, disease, and in general, neglect are the main killers.  However, if all these pups instead lived to maturity, we would all be swimming in these cute little devils, and community packs would be more than triple or quadruple the size they are now. The incidence of rabies outbreaks would also be elevated, as there would be more cases to deal with, and more infectious ankle bites as a result.

In order to humanly curb the growth of our dog problem, two KTM groups have been working very hard for many years, implementing what is known in the Animal Welfare biz as ABC programs - jargon for spaying and neutering, or in simple talk: sterilization. Both the KAT Centre (in the north end of town) and Animal Nepal (in the south) have been out doing this work, and as a result, fewer pups are born each year that would quickly die on the street. For example, KAT sterilizes approximately 120 female dogs each month, and each one is also vaccinated for rabies, dewormed, and treated for existing illness or injuries. Additionally, both KAT (www.katcentre.org.np) and Animal Nepal have a rescue programme where each month, a hundred or so injured dogs are picked up, brought in to a center for treatment and vaccinations, and then returned to the corner on which they were found.

Both orgs have facilities where expert medical teams perform surgeries, shelter animals as needed, and act as a hub for animal welfare in the Valley. Here they also provide training and awareness raising, and even offer up healthy dogs for adoption.  And this week, Animal Nepal has embarked on a new model for helping those pups that live on the fringes of the valley and beyond, where the incidence of rabies is greater and domestic animals and wildlife are living closer together.

Typically, when a village confronts the problem of overpopulation in the street dog community, the solution is poisoning. Strychnine-laced meat is laid out, and the doggies gobble that up and are dead within hours. Outside of the cruelty of this method, its also a very stupid idea that puts other animals (such as crows and cows) at risk, as well as the local population of humans who can also get sick from this form of animal control.

A much more humane, safe and cost-effective solution is this new idea of a Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release week (CNVR). During the CNVR, and in a matter of days, volunteers within the village are recruited with the help of the Animal Nepal team and the job gets done right. Local clubs are mobilized to help catch the loose and wandering dogs, and local monasteries offer support in cash and kind. Vets volunteering with Animal Nepal perform the treatment, and within months following the CNVR, the population of dogs will stabilize and eventually decrease. In addition, the overall health of the dogs is expected to greatly improve.

This week's Pharping CNVR proved to be a great success (many congrats out to them), and was kicked off by dozens of volunteers establishing a temporary operating theatre. Day 2 was a round-up day, and the next day was spent giving treatments. Following a 24-hour recovery period, the dogs were returned where found: happy, healthier, and now unable to reproduce like rabbits. The CNRV also included a community evening at the cozy Trinbha Café, and there I gave a multimedia presentation on animal welfare to a most enthusiastic crowd.

Lucia DeVries, one of the founders of Animal Nepal and active in Nepali welfare for over a decade, had this to say about the first-ever doggie CNVR in Nepal:

"This is the way to go. Transporting dogs into the Valley over difficult terrain is tough and expensive. CNVR is the answer to dog management in rural areas, as this way is much more efficient in setting up a barrier against rabies, as well as getting more folks involved during the process. Pharping is now a bit better for all those that live there, including the dogs."

Overall, I felt great after participating myself, as did all the other volunteers. And I was reminded this week of the words of my dharma teacher, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who said, "If you want to be unhappy, help yourself, and if you want to be happy, help others." And in this case, many of those "others" were unborn pups that would have died miserably in the streets without the help of dozens of gracious volunteers within the Pharping community.

For more information on how a Village Health Camp can be organized in your community, or on animal welfare in general, please contact Lucia DeVries of Animal Nepal (luciadevries@gmail.com or visit www.animalnepal.org).
read more "Kuire Ko Kura: On Pharping Puppies"

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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