Yearly Archives: 2008

The Naturalization Process

I’m currently living in the US as a “premanent resident”, with what is known as a “green card”. This means I can live here as long as I like, but I’m not a citizen. I can’t vote, I can’t leave the country for more than six months at a time, and there are some tax problems.

On Election day this year, November 4th 2008, I decided to apply for citizenship, and so filled in my form and sent it off. This is what happened so far (I’ll update it as more thing happen).

Nov 4th 2008

– Filled in the N400 form. This can be downloaded from the slightly confusing USCIS web site. It’s a PDF that you can fill in at your computer and then save and print out. I’m sure eventually they will accept it over the internet, but for now you’ve got to mail it in.
– Took some passport photos. These have to be ratther particular, 2″x2″. There’s a nice page explaining all the details, or you can just pay someone to do it for you. You need to send them two, and keep two for later. I did them myself, Holly took a photo of me with a white background, and I cropped it to fit. You write your “A Number” on the back of the photo, in pencil.
– Wrote check for $675. Somewhat expensive.
– Sent it all in (I actually did the above over a few days, but I mailed it on election day).
(There’s a handy checklist for the above).

Nov 13th 2008

An I-797C Notice of Action arrives, telling me my application has arrived, and I should hear from them within 425 days. Yes, it actually said 425 day.

Nov 20th 2008

Rather surpisingly, I hear from them a week later, with a letter telling that I have an appointment to be fingerprinted on december 4th, at 12 PM. Not too bad. But I think the long wait comes after, waiting for the interview.

Dec 4th 2008

Fingerprinting day. I arrive at 11:40 for my 12PM appointment. Not very busy. They are very serious about their “No Cellphone” rule, making me leave mine in the car. I fill in a form, and am called in less than five minutes. The fingerprinting took arount 10 minutes (a grumpy Russian woman, constantly berating the machine). My fingers were too dry, so they were squirted with water several times, but eventually it worked.

They game me a book to study for the Naturalization test, questions like: What is the “rule of law”. Now I just have to wait until an interview is scheduled. No idea how long that will take.

Dec 18th 2008

I’ve got my appointment for the interview. Set for Feb 17th 2009, at 7:45AM.

Feb 17th 2009

Naturalization interview.

March 3rd 2009

I get a letter informing me that the Naturalization Oath Ceremony is on March 25th, 2009, at the Pomana Fairplex, 12:30 PM. I am to bring the letter, my green card, probably my passports (just to be safe). I also have to assert that since the interview I have not practiced polygamy or been a habitual drunkard.

They also note that “Proper attire should be worn”

March 25th 2009

Naturalization oath ceremony, I’m now an American. Applied for passport.

April 15th 2009

Passport arrives, and the Naturalization certificate was returned in a separate envelope. Basically five and a half months from applying to getting the passport and certificate.

Nepal Photos from 1993

Back in 1993 I took a trip to Nepal with my ex-girlfriend Carol. I took a lot of photos on that trip, and finally got around to scanning them in:

http://picasaweb.google.com/mickword/Nepal1993#

Six days of the trip were trekking near Pokara, in the Annapuran region. This is approximately the route we took:

From Nepal 1993

It’s about the easiest trek you can do. We walked for about five hours a day, maybe a bit more, but were really only walking 5-8 miles. It was a lot of up and down though. The heights on the map are in meters.

Where it all began

This is how I got started programming, 20 years ago, 1988:

Actually I started a few years earlier, but this is probably where I really got into writing code, and writing games. That’s a Sinclair ZX-Spectrum in a dK’tronics keyboard. Microdrive on the left. TV as a monitor. Sound sampler plugged in the back, plotter on the right. Cassette player (from before I got the microdrive). I still have that pink folder under the calculator. This is all on my desk in my room at Needham Hall, from when I was at UMIST (now Manchester University).

Books I Have Read on the Kindle

Books I’ve read since Feb 4th 2008, on my Kindle, with a ranking out of five of how much I enjoyed reading them.

1984 by George Orwell. (4/5)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (4/5)
Sabriel by Garth Nix (4/5)
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (4/5)
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, by Marina Lewycka (3.5/5)
What is the What, By Dave Eggars (4/5)
World War Z: An Oral History, by Max Brooks (4.5/5)
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (3/5)
Lirial by Garth Nix (4/5)
Abhorsen by Garth Nix (4/5)
13 Bullets by David Wellington (3/5)
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (4/5)
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (3.5/5)
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh (3.5/5)
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta (4/5)
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (4.5/5)
In the Woods by Tana French (4.5/5)
East of Eden by John Steinback (4/5)
The Likeness by Tana France (3.5/5)
Duma Key by Stephen King (4/5)

HomePNA Ethernet over CATV Coax

[Update June 2009] The following account might still be useful, but I don’t think the DPH548 is available any more. I would now recommend the NetGear MCAB1001 Adapter kit, which Amazon is currently offering for $180 for two adapters. It gets very good reviews. Someone reported problems getting it working with FiOS, but according to a comment below: “I'm Chris Geiser, the Product Line Manager for the NETGEAR MoCA bridges. The MCAB1001 works fine on the Verizon FIOS network and has been extensively tested.”

Continue reading…

Sharing Two Kindles, How does it work?

It works great!

My wife and I both like to read. I recently got a Kindle, and Holly just had to have one too. One downside of e-books is that you can’t share a book with a friend. However, if two people can share one Amazon account (at least, just for Kindle purchases) , then they can share all their books between their two Kindle’s.

kindle-buy-options.jpgIt works really simply, and really well. When you get the second Kindle, you just register it to the same account as the first one. Then when you buy a book, or download a sample, you get a drop-down box that lets you choose which Kindle you want the book sent to. In the image to the right I’ve selected “Mick’s Kindle”.

So it gets sent to whichever Kindle you like. There’s no option to send it to both Kindles, but once you’ve bought it, then it’s in your “Media Library” on Amazon, and from there you can send it again to either Kindle.

You can also buy books on the Kindle itself, and with that it works just as you would expect – the book goes to the Kindle you ordered it on, and to the Media Library, so it can be downloaded to either Kindle at a later time.

Finally you can also get a copy of the book on the other Kindle without using the computer. Just go to the “Content Manager” on the Kindle’s main menu. In the Content Manager, some books are labeled “Kindle”, meaning they are in your Kindle, and some are labeled “Amazon”, meaning they are just in your Media Store. If Holly buys a book, it will automatically show up here.

So, to download a book Holly just bought on her Kindle, I just select it in the Content Manager, and then select “Move to Kindle Memory” from the Menu. The book will transfer, and twenty seconds later you can start reading.

This all brings me to an unexpected advantage of the Kindle. We can read the same book at the same time. Normally you’d read a book and then lend it to someone. But since we have two Kindles, with two copies of the book (for less than the price of one paper book), we can both be reading it at the same time. We are currently both reading What is the What by Dave Eggers, and it’s a novel experience to be able to discuss the book while were are both still reading it.

Embracing the Kindle

I love Amazon’s Kindle.

I’ve had mine for about month now, and I’ve read four books on it so far:

1984 by George Orwell. (314 pages)
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (350 pages)
Sabriel by Garth Nix (496 pages)
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (983 pages)

product-descr-book_v15485687_.jpgAs a replacement for the paper versions of these books it is nearly flawless, and provides many advantages. The most obvious one being that the weight and space of multiple books is reduced to one slender 10.3 ounce Kindle. On the face of it this might not seem such a great improvement, but really it conveys two huge benefits.

Firstly it means no more shelf space is taken up by books you are never going to read again. We’ve got lots of bookcases in our house, full of books that we read once, perhaps as much as 20 years ago. It’s hard to get rid of books you have an emotional attachment to, but they are just taking up space – a lot of space. Look at how much nine books takes up.

You could of course get rid of your books after you read them, sell them, give them away, or only read books from the library. But one thing you can’t do with a book is make it smaller. Laying in bed reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth in hardback, is not a comfortable experience. It’s nearly a thousand pages, and weighs 2.2 pounds. Yet on the Kindle it weighs just the same as any other book. (See World Without End in the image above, same sized book)

Less obvious advantages abound. I read some Luddite suggest the Kindle would not be perfect until it had two screens to simulate the two pages of an open book. That’s just stupid. Two screens would weigh twice as much, would be greatly more prone to breaking at the hinge, and you’d have to shift your reading between the pages. The beauty of the Kindle is that you can read in one position, holding the Kindle in either hand (or both, or neither), and turn pages with an imperceptible press of a button.

People who scoff at this improvement over turning pages manually would probably have scoffed at the invention of the television remote control. “How hard is it to get up and change the channel”, they would laugh. This is a natural response, and it’s only when you’ve actually tried it for a while that you appreciate actually not having to turn pages yourself, and not having to heft a heavy book one way or the other so you can read each page. You appreciate being able to lay in whatever position you like, the Kindle conforming to your comfort, rather than your position being dictated by the weight and form of a traditional book.

Having a built in dictionary might not seem so great either, but I actually used it when reading Pillars of the Earth to look up “unctuous” (location 14409), which I originally took to be something like “uncouth”, and might have misunderstood the tone of the whole section had I not had the dictionary a few clicks away. It’s just very convenient.

The search function is nice as well. You can search all your books in seconds for a particular word or phrase. That’s simply impossible with traditional books.

The books are cheaper. Especially if you look at hardbacks. Look at Follett’s World Without End, which is $35 in the shops, $21+shipping online, and just $10 on the Kindle. It’s not available in paperback yet, but Pillars of the Earth is, and costs $14.97 for the paperback, and just $6.39 for the Kindle version.

The books are cheaper in part because of the obvious low costs of duplication. But another reason is the restrictions that are placed on the digital version. You can’t re-sell the book, or lend it to anyone. Since you don’t get a physical object, the value of what you receive is diminished.

This is not an issue for me. I rarely lend or borrow books. The only person I share books with is my wife, Holly, and this is something we can still do, as we now have two Kindles (Holly’s arrived today).

With two Kindles, you can share books if both Kindles are registered to the same account. This is a minor inconvenience to Holly, as she would have to be logged in as me if she wanted to buy Kindle books on her computer. But buying directly off the Kindle itself is exactly the same.

I also really like being able to download a sample of a book. That way I can read the first chapter and see if I’m going to like it before I buy it. It’s a simple thing, but ultimately could greatly improve the average enjoyment I get out of books, and save a lot of wasted half-read books that I’m only grinding through because I paid for them without reading any of them.

One major advantage is the VAST amount of books that are totally free because they are out of copyright. All you have to do it copy them onto your Kindle, and they read just like any other book. Here’s a list of some of the best free books available, thousands of dollars worth, from some astonishingly good authors:

http://www.diesel-ebooks.com/cgi-bin/category/download-free-mobipocket-ebook-titlesearch

So what are the downsides here?

The most obvious one seems to be the initial cost. $400 is a lot of money, but then again, if I save $10 for every book I buy, then I just need to buy 40 books to have it pay for itself. Certainly within a year or so I’ll be making a profit. In addition, you get all the benefits mentioned above – worth paying extra for, and yet we actually end up saving money. Not to mention the bookcases we don’t have to buy, and all the free books you are getting.

The real problem with the Kindle is the lack of available books. Not that there are not a lot of books; there are currently 110,704 books available on the Kindle. But of those, only 38,357 are fiction, and within that, 2,465 are “Literary Fiction”, which seems to encompass much of what I like to read.

Of course that’s still a lot of books. The problem is there are books I want to read that are not on the Kindle. There’s no Iain M. Banks, and he’s my favorite author, with a new book out in hardback (Matter) that I really want to read. There are others as well, books I’ve seen recommended, but which are not on the Kindle. It’s very annoying to have this wonderful way of reading books, but not all books.

So what to do? Right now I feel like I’ll just read the books that are currently on the Kindle. Eventually the other books will be on there, and I can wait a year of so for that to happen. There is certainly enough reading matter there, and while it rankles somewhat, I can wait. If I really need to read a book, I can buy it in paper – but I don’t think it’s likely.

Other things are mostly minor. The screen is a little gray, and so needs slightly more light to comfortable read than a traditional book. You can’t easily just riffle back a bunch of pages (but it’s easy to go back one page). I sometimes turn pages by accident (but you stop that fairly quickly, and it’s no worse than loosing your page in a traditional book). It’s perhaps a little slow and cumbersome in going through your library, but then you can’t search your bookcases while laying in bed.

The version of 1984 I read had several typos in it. This is obviously because of OCR errors from scanning the book in. This is not going to be an issue with any modern book (none of the other books had similar problems). However, cheap old scanned books might continue to have some errors. This is really a problem with the individual publishers, and will diminish as e-books become more mainstream.

It’s not great for reference books. While searching is great, the small screen, the low resolution, the lack of color, and the slowness of page flipping make it unsuitable for many kinds of reference book. It’s best for the type of book that you read once, from start to end. Those books occupy many feet of my shelf space, and cost me hundreds of dollars.

So the Kindle is great, I love it. It’s only going to get better as well. In three or four years I’ll probably buy a Kindle 2.0, with a crisper, faster screen, maybe color. All my books will transfer over to it and I’ll continue to save space and money, while reading more, and reading better.

Copy DVDs onto iPhone for free (Windows)

Very easy to do, you just need to install two free programs:

1) DVD43: http://www.dvd43.com
(Reboot after installing)

2) Handbrake: http://handbrake.fr/
– More specifically, install the Windows GUI version.

Then:

3) Insert DVD, cancel any auto-play

4) Run Handbrake, under Source, browse to the VIDEO_TS folder on your DVD drive

5) Under Destination, browse to any folder on your PC where the converted video will be stored, pick an appropriate name for the movie.

6) Under Presets, click on iPhone/iPod Touch, do not adjust any other settings.

7) Click Start, and wait 30 minutes to 2+ hours (depending on computer speed, and DVD length)

8) Drag the converted (.mp4 or .mpv) video file into Movies in your iTunes library

9) On the iPhone in iTunes, click the “Video” tab, then select the Movies you want to sync.

10) Sync, done. Movie will show up on your iPhone’s iPod “Videos”.

Tip: When playing, double tap to adjust the zoom in letterboxed movies.