SUMO in 2013: Firefox Desktop

You’re reading part 3 of SUMO in 2013, and this time the focus is Firefox on the desktop!

Increase retention and user loyalty

Over the years, we’ve built something pretty amazing with the desktop Firefox support on SUMO, so this year it’s all about optimizing and oiling that engine to go from great to awesome. Overall, the goal in 2013 is to decrease issue-driven churn.

SUMO developments over the years

Snapshots of support.mozilla.org over the years.

Some of this has already been covered in the first part of this blog series — the stuff that applies to all of our products — but it’s worth repeating some of it here since desktop Firefox represents the vast majority of our traffic on support.mozilla.org today. There are two main components to this that will contribute to increased retention and user loyalty that we are responsible for:

  1. Understand our users by listening to their feedback. This is what the User Advocacy team is focusing their efforts on.
  2. Delighting our users with better-than-expected support. This is what the Desktop & Cross-Product Support team focuses on, including efforts like a kick-ass education strategy. But it also includes our focus on providing kick-ass help articles and covering more topics and answers.

Achieve 100% resolution rate in English support forum

To be clear, 100% resolution rate here means that no posts in the forum should be left unresolved. In other words, any user posting a question should get an answer to their question, and if that answer doesn’t solve their problem, we won’t give up until that problem is solved. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all resolutions will please the user — for example, if a user posts a question like “Why is there no official version of Firefox for Playstation 3?” we will simply do our best to explain why and resolve the thread that way. While the user may disagree with our answer, we would consider that thread resolved. So we won’t exactly achieve magic here — but we’ll get pretty close. ;)

Let’s be clear about one thing: this is a very ambitious goal. It will take a huge effort from everyone involved: our insane community of volunteers, our awesome WebDev team to prepare the platform for things like being able to mark threads as “unsolvable” (similar to the INVALID resolution in Bugzilla) and streamline the interface, and of course the SUMO team itself. There will no doubt be some threads that will be left behind or forgotten in the day-to-day answering of questions in our community. Because of this, we will need to have people ready to “fill in the gaps” as they appear, and to ensure that all threads that already have an answer actually lead to a resolution. Do you think we can do it? Would you like to help us while learning more about our products and development processes? Come join us in the forum!

Provide first response to all forum questions within 24 hours

Another forum-related goal this year is to ensure that everyone gets a first response within 24 hours of posting a question in the forum. This is part of our commitment to delight users with our support, and in reality we’ll aim to do even better than 24 hours — but this is already an ambitious goal as it is!

QuestionsThe good thing is that already making great progress in our ability to provide timely responses. In fact, we’re already responding to close to 80% of all of our questions within 24 hours. But the road to 100% will be both challenging and fun at the same time!

That’s it for desktop Firefox this year. Piece of cake, right? ;) In the next part, I’ll walk you through our goals for Firefox for Android.

SUMO in 2013: Firefox OS

You’re reading the second part of the SUMO in 2013 blog series, and this time the focus is Firefox OS!

  • Part 1: Delight our users
  • Part 2: Firefox OS — you’re reading this one right now!
  • Part 3: Firefox Desktop
  • Part 4: Firefox Android
  • Part 5: Summary

So what exactly is Firefox OS? From mozilla.org:

Firefox OS will produce an implementation of new Web standards to free mobile platforms from the encumbrances of the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.

We’re collaborating with OEMs and carriers directly, giving them more influence to meet the specific needs of their users and market. Users and developers aren’t locked in to one platform, so they can access their info and use apps across multiple devices.

Developers will no longer need to learn and develop against platform-specific native APIs. […] Consumers who use devices powered by Firefox OS won’t be locked into one specific platform giving them more choice, flexibility and freedom. With Firefox OS, the Web is the platform.

Create best-in-class mobile support experience for Firefox OS v1 launch

firefox-phone2013 is going to be an incredible year for Mozilla since it will be the year when Firefox OS and the open mobile web get into the hands of users around the world. At SUMO, we’re working hard to prepare for this and to ensure we’re ready to support users if they run into any problems.

However, some things will be a little different for us compared to how we’re supporting Firefox users. These Firefox OS phones will be sold in brick and mortar stores, and the user will have actually paid with real money for it. This raises the bar of the kind of support they expect for their device, and we need to be prepared for that.

Partner with carriers & OEMs

Luckily, we’re not the only ones who care deeply about Firefox OS users — since the phones will be sold in stores, we will rely on our partners for the first line of defense in supporting Firefox OS. This is a great start, but we still need to make sure that those who do come to our site get the best possible answers to their questions.

We also want to make sure that our partners have the best possible support material for our product so they can delight their customers just as much as we will. This means we’ll be working on delivering high-quality support documentation and training material as part of writing our knowledge base articles for users. In fact, we’ve already started and would love to see you join the efforts! Contributing to SUMO is a great way to influence the future of Firefox OS and to be a part of this brand new mobile phone experience.

Build localized support forums and communities and supply them with needed tools

Our support forum platform view from a mobile device.

For local communities who don’t already have a support forum and are ready to support Firefox OS users, we will be building the foundations to support localized forums on support.mozilla.org itself. This is actually something we’ve wanted to offer for a long time, so it’s very exciting that it will finally become a reality for the local communities who need it! Note that this foundation will also work for all of our other products like Firefox, but we’re building this primarily to support the Firefox OS v1 launch.

Another thing we did last year in preparation for the Firefox OS launch was to redesign the forum interface to look awesome on small screens. You can check this out today by navigating to support.mozilla.org/questions from your mobile phone.

Ensure excellent first impression by answering all user questions during our initial launch

You only have one chance to give a first impression, and we want ours to be an excellent one. We’ll be making sure that everyone gets an answer to their questions on SUMO, regardless of whether they found our site directly when searching online, or if they were sent our way by our partners.

We’re collaborating with our local communities such as Mozilla Hispano to ensure that we’re all ready for this big launch. Mozilla Hispano have done an amazing job already with preparing their community and website, and they’re just as excited about the launch as we are.

Expand our support offerings to include third-party Apps developers

UI Tests for Firefox OS (by tuuux)

The beauty of Firefox OS is that the platform used to run native apps on it is the web itself, completely unencumbered. This is huge for developers, because it means all they need to know in order to write apps for Firefox OS are the same skills they use to write websites: html5, javascript, and a bit of css. In fact, many developers already write mobile apps using these technologies on other proprietary mobile OS platforms like Android and iOS to make their apps work cross-platform. So the learning curve for developers to include support for Firefox OS will essentially be zero, because with Firefox OS, the web is the platform.

That doesn’t mean that no developer will ever need support, so we will be joining forces with the Developer Engagement team and implement a solution for those needs. This includes both administrative and purely development-related support.

That was an overview of what we’re working on this year around Firefox OS support. It’s all very exciting! In the next part of the series, I’ll present our goals for Firefox on the desktop. Stay tuned for more…

SUMO in 2013: Delight our users

In case you’re still hiding in that safety bunker and missed all the fireworks, it’s actually 2013 now and we all survived (well, most of us; that you’re reading this is a good sign that you’re likely still around). This is big news for Mozilla, because 2013 is the year of Firefox OS on the mobile! It’s also big news for SUMO, because we’re going to provide kick-ass support for this phone OS in ways the world has never seen before — while continuing to excel with Firefox desktop and Android, as well as exploring new opportunities with Apps & Marketplace.

This post marks the beginning of a mini-series outlining and explaining our SUMO high-level goals in 2013. I’ll start at the highest level and then I’ll drill down into the specifics for each product we’re supporting (or will begin to support this year) on support.mozilla.org.

  • Part 1: Delight our users — you’re reading this one right now!
  • Part 2: Firefox OS
  • Part 3: Firefox Desktop
  • Part 4: Firefox Android
  • Part 5: Summary

To kick this off, let’s start with our overarching mission this year:

Delight our users.

Delighting users means going above and beyond and delivering product support that is better than they expected. It means making sure everyone visiting our support will get an answer to their question. But it also means that they take something with them from the experience of getting helped that they didn’t expect — something that delights them. For example, learning about a neat trick with the product that enhances their experience with the product, or just being pleasantly surprised with the speed and accuracy of the answer, or maybe that our support community was the best and most friendly community they’ve ever experienced.

Michael and Michelle helping a Firefox user.

Let’s look at our 2013 goals that apply to all of our known products: Firefox desktop, Firefox for Android, Firefox OS, and Apps & Marketplace.

Implement a cross-team proactive user education strategy

This will be a big part of our “delight our users” promise, because we’ll use this proactive type of support before the user even thought they needed help about something. You can do this in many different ways, for example when you’re on the support site and you’re trying to solve a problem, we can take the opportunity to teach about something else too. Or when you’re launching Firefox for the first time, we could feature an interactive walk-through of the components of the UI. Or if you like our Mozilla Firefox page on Facebook, we could seed it with useful tips to make the most out of your product experience.

Because of the many ways of educating users, this goal will be a coordinated approach lead by SUMO but involving aspects of marketing, engagement, support, and the product itself (UX, etc). The sky is the limit on this one, and that’s what’s making it so exciting! Michael shares some more thoughts on user education on his blog.

Ensure that users with problems know that SUMO exists

What good is our support if people don’t know how to find us, let alone that we exist? A survey that we conducted some time ago revealed that we still need to do more to ensure maximum visibility of our support offerings for those who need it. Our goal is that anyone that has a problem with our products should know where to go to get help.

Drive quality improvements to our products through powerful user advocacy

Part of what makes SUMO great is that we listen carefully to what our users are saying to us in our various channels. This leads to better support, since we continuously fine-tune our content to match user demand — but it also leads to better products, since we share our findings with the rest of the organization. We call this User Advocacy, and in 2013 we’ll ramp this up significantly to ensure that our products are meeting our users’ expectations since that will also reduce the need for support — a win-win-win situation (users, SUMO, Mozilla).

To learn more about how the SUMO group is organized, including the formation of the User Advocacy team, read the SUMO Staff Organization Changes blog post from last month.

Establish Firefox User Sentiment Report as a primary release-to-release product quality measurement for Desktop, Android, and Firefox OS

In December we piloted the first Firefox User Sentiment Report (or FUSR for short) for desktop Firefox, which is a real-time snapshot of our user’s joy and pain as reported from our user feedback channels. We got great feedback about it already, including of course rooms for improvements. Ultimately the goal of these reports is to make the products better by ensuring that our distilled user feedback is accessible, understandable, and above all actionable. Our vision is that teams like Engineering, Product, and UX — the awesome people that make our products — could look at our reports and quickly determine if there are any major issues to look for across our release channels.

The December installment of the report was just the beginning — as we generate more of these reports, we hope to include forecasting based on previous releases to ultimately give us the ability to predict the quality of a new version of Firefox before it leaves the Beta phase. And as we fine-tune the accuracy and visualization, we’ll make sure reports deliver on our promise of being actionable.

Push Recoverability features and user-demanded fixes into product roadmaps

In 2013, we’ll continue what we started last year with highlighting user-demanded fixes and getting them into our product roadmaps. We’ll also expand these efforts to all of our products, including of course Firefox OS, where the need for high quality user advocacy will be huge.

Make SUMO the primary entry-level community for Mozillians 

This is an area where we have a lot going for us already, but we can do even better, and in 2013 we will. By the end of this year, we will have made significant strides in this area, and we will have grown our community as a result!

The first contribution on SUMO should be a success, and it should be a fun and straightforward experience. There are lots of ways we can make this possible: better online tools on support.mozilla.org, better documentation, mentors and experts in our community who can help, etc.

And once you’ve joined our community, we want you to get more and more involved and engaged in our mission to delight our users. In many ways, being part of the SUMO community is a way to get closer to the products and the teams working on improving them. We love this part of SUMO and view it as a place to grow. This means that some will move on to contributing in other projects after a while, like QA, WebQA and web development — and that’s a great thing! Others (like myself) continue to contribute directly to SUMO, which is awesome.

That was a summary of the high-level SUMO goals in 2013 that apply to all of our products. In the next part, I’ll walk you through the goals we’ve outlined specifically for Firefox OS.

Bluetooth speakers — grossly overpriced?

Took a day off today and spent some time researching bluetooth hi-fi, and I’ve got one big question that begs an answer: Why is one tiny little bluetooth speaker more expensive than a high-quality 2.1 speaker system coupled with a high-quality bluetooth receiver? This makes absolutely no sense to me, no matter how I look at it.

The so-called “BIG” Jambox. Photo cc by Gadgetmac.

Let’s take an example. If you search for popular bluetooth speakers that have reasonable sound quality, you’ll stumble across many reviews of either the Bose Soundlink II (from $299) or the so-called Jawbone BIG Jambox ($295). They generally get very positive reviews and are praised for their high quality sound for their small sizes. Let’s be clear about that, btw: these speakers are tiny. Maybe I’m getting old, but when I was in my 20’s, you’d have a hard time finding any stereo system where one of the speakers were as small as a “BIG” Jambox or a Bose Soundlink.

Now, for significantly less money than one of these tiny bluetooth speakers, you could get a high-quality 2.1 speaker system with built-in amp (e.g. the very powerful, though admittedly not so sleek Pioneer system priced at $145) and then plug in a small bluetooth receiver — the uPlay Puck is supposedly a great one (£60), but there are cheaper ones for around $30 too. You now have a bluetooth speaker system for roughly $200 that will sound significantly better than any $300 all-in-one bluetooth speaker currently on the market.

I tried both the BIG Jambox and the Soundlink II today and the sound was admittedly impressive given the size of the speakers, but these speakers just can’t compare even with an old Creative 2.1 computer speaker system I bought some ten years ago for around $75!

So why are these tiny (and tinny) bluetooth speakers so incredibly expensive for what they are? Is portability really that important to people? Or is it just the relative novelty of this all-in-one speaker form factor that makes people want to pay a premium for being able to carry the speaker around and to bring it with them on vacations? Don’t get me wrong — I too like the idea portability, but to a slightly lesser extent. I would like the ability to move the speaker between e.g. the bedroom and kitchen, and maybe even the patio on a hot summer day. But there are limits to how much I’m willing to sacrifice audio quality, and besides, I would have no problem carrying the speaker around even if it were 5x as heavy as one of these tiny speakers.

My specific needs would be something equally self-contained and simple as the Bose Soundlink II (meaning one single unit) but with significantly larger speakers built in. Something like a 4-5 kg heavy unit that I could still carry around from room to room but without the big sacrifice in sound quality. Battery would definitely be a bonus, but not a hard requirement. And please, no AirPlay or other nasty proprietary solutions — I’m perfectly happy with bluetooth as long as it has that 3.5mm input jack for those moments when I feel pickier about my fidelity. It should definitely support the apt-X protocol over bluetooth though — this was another thing I learned today: there are different types of bluetooth audio codecs and apt-X is much closer to CD quality, but is unfortunately still pretty rare in dedicated bluetooth speakers (neither the BIG Jambox nor the Bose Soundlink II has support for it, for example).

So basically, take a 2.1 sound system and a little bluetooth receiver and a little battery and put it all in one beautiful case. But here’s the catch: it shouldn’t cost much more than its tinier siblings, because frankly, the technology exists already and is, as I’ve already demonstrated, very inexpensive.

Is this all too much to ask for? Has anyone else gone through the same research and had the same questions as I have here? Is there a compromise out there that doesn’t come with pointless AirPlay support and proprietary iDevice docks that I’d never use? Are there any sound systems with bluetooth support that are reasonably portable but still prioritize sound quality and don’t cost a fortune? I’m not asking for a system that would rival my home cinema — just something that sounds good and is fairly portable (in the 1980’s sense). If you have any advice, please leave a comment in the comments section of this post!

Portable is a relative term after all. Photo cc by eeetthaannn.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 review

I recently replaced the webcam I use for video conferences at Mozilla and since I’m going back to my roots a bit with this blog, I thought I’d post a review about it here since that’s what the old me would have done without blinking. ;) I previously owned a Creative Live! Socialize HD 1080p webcam for about 6 months, a full HD capable webcam with supposedly excellent quality. I was using Windows 7 at the time, and the webcam came with an app for changing settings like brightness, white balance, gamma and other stuff. It worked reasonably well, but it always struggled with reproducing natural colors in dim light. No matter how you adjusted the image settings, the camera would render almost black/white or something resembling sepia colors, with lots of grain.

Due to a little bed table accident at a hotel room in Mountain View, I switched from Windows to Mac a couple of months ago (which probably is a story worthy a separate blog post). This is when the limitations of the Creative webcam really started to become unbearable, because now I didn’t have any app to adjust the webcam settings anymore since there is no Mac support. Luckily there was another minor hardware problem with the webcam so I was able to return it to the store for a full refund. So now I was on the hunt for a new webcam again, this time preferably with Mac and Windows support (since I’ll hopefully be able to switch to Windows 8 at some point — I still hate Macs).

C920_CTG_3_610x645I quickly homed in on the Logitech C920 webcam after a recommendation from William Quiviger, but when looking up the specs of it, it turned out that it didn’t have Mac support either. I ended up in countless of angry threads online about the outrageous fact that the C920 didn’t have Mac support when its predecessor C910 had. Well, I ended up getting the C920 anyway because I didn’t like the idea of buying the previous generation, and Logitech’s own support reps on their site even mentioned in a thread that the support in C910 wasn’t that great. And everyone seemed to rave about the picture quality of the C9x0 in general, so I thought I’d take a chance.

And boy did this camera exceed my expectations! Sure, there is no Mac support in that you can’t modify settings like white balance, brightness, saturation, gamma, etc…. but the reality is, you don’t need it. This camera adjust perfectly to any lighting condition! I’ve used this in daylight, during nighttime with an energy light bulb, and even in the darkness with the cold light from my 24″ monitor lighting up my face. Regardless of light source, the camera just adjusts perfectly and renders colors that don’t want me to cover up my face in late night meetings with my colleagues overseas. In comparison, the Creative camera that I owned previously made my face completely blue due to the harsh monitor light.

So, although you can’t modify any settings if you’re on a Mac, I still highly recommend this webcam as it adjusts perfectly and has stunning image quality. I certainly have never used a better webcam. And if you’re running Windows, the webcam is probably an even better choice.

Kindle Paperwhite a step back in many aspects, still desirable

Back in October, I was a proud owner of a Kindle Paperwhite for about two days after a quick decision to return it. Here is my review of it based on our brief acquaintance. Despite this mostly negative review, I’m actually still thinking about buying one. If you own one, I’d love to hear about your experiences so far! Anyway, my feedback in summary:

  • Amazon’s quality control sucks, or the product was rushed to market.
  • There was uneven lighting across the entire screen of my device, but it wasn’t a big deal to me.
  • The claimed 25% contrast increase is simply a lie.
  • PDF support has taken a step back with some complex documents no longer loading.
  • The experimental web browser is harder to scroll with than the Kindle 4.
  • Amazon’s beautiful leather cover is much heavier than expected.

Quality control

I read many of the initial customer reviews on amazon.com before I got my own unit and many of them complained about uneven lighting, especially at the bottom of the screen. When I got my device, I was already prepared for the worst — part of me was even ready to be pleasantly surprised and say “the unevenness wasn’t so bad after all” like some others had written in their reviews on Amazon.

Unfortunately, the latter didn’t happen. I knew I would have to return it the minute I opened the sleek black package. When starting it up for the first time, I immediately noticed a gray little dot in the dark area of the boot-up image. Hoping that it was just dust on the screen, I tried to wipe it off with my finger, but that didn’t work. Then the screen flicked over to white for the introduction pages, and the little dot remained there, now appearing black. After some additional research (including using my Olympus 45mm lens reversed as a loupe), I could confirm that the dot was indeed some e-ink or dust particle that was “stuck” on the screen, underneath the light layer — in fact, it was even visible when the device was turned off. After I had discovered that spot, it didn’t matter that it was smaller than most dust particles. I had seen it and I couldn’t un-see it.

Built-in light

The uneven light shown at the bottom of the screen. (Photo by archie4oz.)

Yes, the lighting was uneven, too. My unit had stronger lighting in the lower-left corner, as well as some blotches with darker colors. The most off-white area was at the bottom where the four led light shines out. Some of that light in the center had a pink/blue hue. Then there were some subtle shadows at the top. Honestly, these color differences ddidn’t bother me much at all — when you pulled the light intensity down, you barely noticed it. And that’s how the screen should be used anyway, otherwise reading on the Paperwhite is as bad for your eyes as reading on a computer screen. Don’t buy the myth that one type of light is worse than the other depending on whether the light shines into your eyes rather than onto a surface and then into your eyes. The reason why your eyes can see things is because light particles (photons) hit the retina in your eyes. It’s the same with the Paperwhite. The trick to avoid fatigue is to keep light at a low setting so that the screen doesn’t shine brighter than the surrounding. This is easy to achieve with the Paperwhite with its many light levels, but, honestly, you can achieve that with virtually any tablet and mobile phone too. If you’re using an Android phone, check out my review of the Screen Filter app to learn how you can achieve incredibly dim brightness when reading with the Kindle app. But anyway, the Paperwhite has an adjustable built-in light that can get incredibly dim, making it suitable for reading in a pitch dark room. But at the bottom of the screen, there is a shadowy area that just doesn’t disappear regardless of the brightness setting.

As a side-note (literally), it’s funny that the margin settings of the Paperwhite don’t allow you to increase the bottom margin, given that the light is the most uneven there. Changing the margin only affects the sides of the screen. You can change to Landscape Mode if you really want to avoid reading on the uneven part of the screen. However, unlike the old Kindle 4, the Paperwhite will change back to Portrait Mode when you go to the Home screen, meaning you have to rotate your device back and forth when switching between books. Annoying. The Kindle 4 kept its rotation setting even on the home screen.

Contrast

About the claimed 25% increase in contrast, I can’t spot an improvement in any lighting environment. You’d think that 25% better contrast would be noticed immediately, but no. Comparing the Kindle 4 and the Paperwhite side by side with both devices turned off, showing the exact same ad cover, the Paperwhite screen is surprisingly slightly darker (the “white” area being more yellow) than the Kindle 4! If you use a strong flashlight on both screens, it’s easy to see the light emission layer on the Paperwhite, which is likely what makes the screen slightly darker/yellow compared to the Kindle 4 screen. Crank up the lighting to 5-6 (still a very low setting), and there is a noticeable increase in brightness. The contrast doesn’t increase though, since the black then becomes a little more blue instead. Maybe if you’re comparing the screens in bright sunlight you can see the improved contrast? But I doubt it.

Paperwhite to the left, Kindle 4 to the right. Real, actually white paper in between.

When it comes to measuring contrast, the only honest way of doing it is by measuring it in equally bright environments. This means that if Amazon is comparing the Paperwhite with the Kindle 4 — one with a built-in light and the other one without it — they have to compare the screens with the built-in light of the Paperwhite turned completely off. Based on what I can see with my own eyes, it seems like they just pulled a false marketing stunt and compared the Kindle 4 with the Paperwhite set to a reasonable brightness setting and placed them both in a dim room. Of course the Paperwhite wins in those circumstances, but that’s cheating.

Resolution & fonts

The increase in resolution is there, however, but I have to say the improvement is barely noticeable. You can definitely see it if you look for it, but when reading a book I never noticed it. I could see it when loading a busy PDF file with charts and tiny text though. Really, the most notable improvement in terms of readability is the new fonts. I loved reading with the Palatino font at the second-lowest size — that felt close to reading a real book. If the Kindle 4 had that font, I think I’d be pretty happy with continuing to read on that device.

PDF support

The PDF support has taken a slight step back. I immediately noticed that one of my 100+ pages PDF wouldn’t load. After trying to load it, the Paperwhite shows an error message saying “Unable to Open Item” because “The title is too large for available memory.” The K4 opens the PDF just fine. Also, flicking pages is surprisingly faster on the K4 when reading a PDF. Was the CPU downgraded or is it underclocked in the Paperwhite? The slowness when paging PDFs seems to be related to the complexity of the PDF. Try e.g. downloading the Olympus E-M5 user manual PDF and you’ll see what I mean. When reading normal e-books, page flicking is perhaps slightly faster on the Paperwhite compared to K4, but both devices are pretty darn fast.

Touch screen & experimental browser

I love the touch screen and don’t mind the lack of page turn buttons on the Paperwhite. However, this has unfortunately rendered the experimental web browser a bit useless, since there is no way to easily scroll down page by page anymore. Instead, you have to swipe like you would on your mobile device — but that’s not fun on an e-ink screen when a swipe only scrolls a few lines after about a second of blinking and thinking. Even if you switch to the (otherwise) very useful Article Mode, you can’t easily scroll down a full page with a single tap. The tap zones apparently only work in books. What a shame on an otherwise excellent (for being on e-ink) web browser. Of course, actually typing on the Paperwhite is a thousand times better than the Kindle 4 since that device lacks a keyboard. But actually reading a bookmarked web page is much more convenient on the Kindle 4.

Leather cover

Lastly, I also ordered the Paperwhite Leather Cover with my Kindle to complete the experience, and because I need some sort of protection when I’m traveling. The cover looks good, even though the leather felt a bit cheap and thin. The magnet with its auto-on feature makes it very convenient to use though. However, it was much heavier than I expected. With the Paperwhite in it, it felt disappointingly heavy, probably twice as heavy as my Kindle 4.

Also, the $40 price tag felt like a ripoff for what it was. For that kind of money, I’d rather spend it on a Saddleback Leather gadget sleeve, which has infinitely higher quality leather and a 100 year guarantee. Definitely a better option if you just want a case for protection when traveling or storing it. Or if you want a cheap protection that you keep on the device at all time, I recommend the MoKo Kindle Cover which currently sells for $12.99 (though was just $9.99 when I ordered mine a couple of months ago).

Conclusion

You already know I returned it, but honestly, I could have lived with the uneven lighting, the slight steps back in web browsing and PDF support, and the increase weight of the overall package. Ultimately it was the dead “pixel” that became the showstopper for me because I couldn’t stop looking at it and frankly I expected better quality control than that. Also, I was traveling for work and wouldn’t have time to allow Amazon to send me a replacement unit, so I decided to return the whole package, including the case. Amazon’s customer service was excellent and very understanding. Big thumbs up to hassle-free returns!

But here’s the twist: I still want this device. The main reason why is because I find myself reading mostly in dim environments. I live in Sweden, so it’s basically dark the entire winter (the sun sets at about 3:30pm this week), and I also read the most in bed. And the reason why reading on my Galaxy Note isn’t good enough is that it’s too tempting to switch to another task on that device, like browsing the web, reading my e-mail, or playing a game. I like the idea of having a device dedicated solely to reading, but the Kindle 4 unfortunately isn’t it because of its lack of built-in light.

I’m still monitoring the reviews on Amazon from time to time and it looks like the average score has gone up. Maybe it’s a good sign that they’re getting their quality control issues sorted out. I might order one again the next time I travel to the Bay Area, but I’ll skip the cover this time and buy something else to protect it. If you already own a Paperwhite, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

Servers, blogs and freedom

Notice anything different? Yes, my blog has a new theme and a slightly concatenated address, but you probably wouldn’t even realize that since I blog about once per year… No, the real changes are under ze hood!

A couple of weeks ago my little Mini-ITX based computer in my closet that acts as my file and web server decided that it didn’t want to start anymore. I panicked at first because I had not performed a full data backup in ages, but thankfully it turned out that the hard drive — the Mother modem if you will — was still working perfectly, so I was able to plug it into another old computer I had lying around.

Young FrankensteinOne really cool thing about Ubuntu Server (and indeed Linux in general) is that it happily continues to run almost regardless of what hardware change around it. Taking out the Mother modem and plugging it into another computer is a bit like taking out the brain of a human and planting it into another body. My new temporary server continued to tick without even the slightest hiccup (albeit way slower on this charmingly clunky 256 MB RAM monster).

With the data backup taken care of, I decided that I’m done tinkering with my own server for now. It’s too much hassle and the risks are too high that if something breaks, you have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to get things back up again. For my modest purposes (a file server for music and movies, and a web server for my blog) it simply wasn’t worth paying for new hardware and going through the trouble of restoring it. Instead, I decided to tackle my two small needs separately:

  1. The blog — I needed a place to host my blog.
  2. The files — I needed a way to access my movies and music on my network to use in XBMC hooked up to my home cinema.

1. The blog

For the blog, I could either host it for free at e.g. wordpress.com, or I could pay a service provider to host my own custom install for me. The former would be free, but the latter would give me more flexibility. I decided on something in between: I’m using wordpress.com to host the blog for free, but I’m paying them to connect my old domain djst.org to it. This is why the address of this blog had to change from djst.org/blog to simply djst.org, because the domain hosts nothing but the blog now. Old permalinks from djst.org/blog/* magically continues to work though — except specifically djst.org/blog, which randomly shows an old blog post from 2006 about a new kitchen table (oh the memories!).

One thing that really impressed me with WordPress is its export and import feature. After getting my Frankenstein server up and running again, I was able to export all posts, pages, comments and categories into one single xml file and then I could just create a blog on wordpress.com and import that file on there. Within a minute, all of my posts and their related tags and comments were living in a new home.

But what about all the uploaded images that go along with the posts? Well, it turns out that the import script automatically fetches all references files in blog posts and uploads them to the new blog location too (though I had to make sure that the old blog was publicly accessible for it to work, which took me a couple of import attempts to get right).

Another thing that impressed me was wordpress.com’s forum support. I had a couple of questions there and one volunteer named tandava108 always provided answers within the hour. Getting a quick response when you’re having a problem or a question is such an important aspect of customer support, so wordpress.com should count themselves lucky to have someone like tandava108 in their forums (just like we are really lucky to have awesome superheroes like cor-el, madperson and jscher2000 in the SUMO forum).

My temporary Frankenstein server with its guts exposed.

2. The files

This one was easy — all I had to do was to plug in an external hard drive to the USB port of my router and voilà, I had wireless access to music and movies again. If you’re curious, I’m using a Netgear WNDR3700v2 router and the configuration process was very straightforward. I’m not too happy about that router for other reasons, btw, but that’s another story.

I must say that it’s a relief to not have a server to worry about anymore. My nerd/hack level has gradually decreased over the years, but it wasn’t until the server broke down that I realized just how little I needed one these days. It feels great to know that I don’t have to worry ever again about my blog getting lost due to a server meltdown.