Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kindle Fire Review

We bought a Kindle Fire for Thanksgiving.  We compared the Fire to our existing devices: an older Kindle, Android phone, and Apple iPod Touch and iPad.  Our overall assessment of the Fire is that it is a vastly better Kindle book reader with many features superior to our iPod Touch and many of the features we use on the iPad.  Here is an overview of what we like and what could be better:

A vastly better Kindle
The Fire has all the reading features we like about our old Kindle with many new additions. The screen is high resolution with color making the text easy to read and color pictures in books clearer than on our lap top, iPod, and iPad. Fire uses touch screen buttons instead of the physical buttons on the older Kindle, so a finger swipe flips the page.  The power on/off is the only button on the device. When connected to a computer it presents a thumb-drive file interface, like the old Kindle. To buy or add books, the Fire requires a wireless internet connection (3g is not supported) or connection to a computer so that books can be moved onto the device.

A better iPod
The Fire has the music and video player iPod/iPad features without the frustrating iTunes interface.  Movies are stored in a directory or played via the internet and the screen resolution makes HD videos and youtube look great.  You can purchase music online or move songs into the music directory to play while reading or surfing the net.  The web interface is easy to use and, unlike Apple’s Safari, it supports Flash.  Games, movies, and applications are available from the Amazon store.  Finally, the same iPod/iPad interface we use for keeping track of all of our email accounts is replicated on the Fire.

So in addition to the book reading device, the Fire has the applications we use all day on our iPod and iPad: Email, Skype messaging (IM), Facebook, and web surfing. And, all this is available for $200.

There are, however, some limitations:

Limited Applications
The Fire uses Google’s Android OS, so we assumed that everything we have available on our Android phone would be available on the Kindle Fire.   Currently that is not the case.  There are less games and other applications in the Amazon cloud as compared to the iTunes and Android stores. Hopefully this will change and more applications become available as the device gains popularity.

Connectivity limitations
You have to connect the Fire to a computer to move movies and music into the appropriate directories or email them to the device via an email address Amazon provides.  The Fire does not come with the USB cable needed to connect to a computer (fortunately we had one from our previous Kindle).  When you email files to the Fire, they are put into the download directory and must be moved into the appropriate music or movie directory by connecting to a computer.  The Kindle USB cables may be easy to find on the mainland, but they are not readily available on an outer island in Hawaii.

Text to Speech
The text-to-speech capability on the older Kindle is not currently available on the Fire.

Local flash Apps
Our Android phone allows us to move flash games onto the phone via a computer connection and play them locally.  Though the Fire supports Flash applications, there is no way to run a local application yet. This limits the device’s use as a gaming platform for now.

The Fire is a superior replacement for our iPod Touch and our older Kindle.  With more drawing applications and iTunes applications, it could replace our iPad.  Hopefully, Amazon will add more Android capabilities and the Kindle text-to-speech feature.

We look forward to reading lots of book on our Kindle Fire during our Hawaii winter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Coffee time in Kona Hawaii

As the Coffee Festival in Kona comes to a close, we are reflecting on everything we have learned about how to make the best cup of coffee during the past two years from festival activities and visits to coffee plantations in the area. Coffee is a big deal to us; we start each day with a pot or two. We have become very discriminating about the taste and prefer our coffee mild and non-acidic. The best coffee cherries in Kona are grown on the cool, upper slopes of the Hualalai Volcano. Hula Daddy, Lee Patterson, has a coffee plantation on the slopes and you can tell from the video we took of him and his workers that he is passionate about his coffee.

Once the coffee cherries ripen, they are picked by hand and hand sorted to get the very best cherries with the right size and color.

The cherries are then dried in the sun and hulled. Then the beans are sorted and graded into different classifications, the bigger the better.

Next, they are roasted in a high-tech coffee roaster. A difference of only 10 degrees F and 30 seconds makes a major difference in flavor from light to dark roast.

The quality of the roast must be verified by “cupping”, which is basically slurping to taste and validate the result. Once approved, the resulting beans are bagged and ready for purchase.

Bringing home the roasted beans is just the beginning of creating the perfect cup of coffee. The grinding and brewing must be just right.

We have used a “blade” grinder for years and had the problem that every grinding was different depending on how long it was ground and how awake we were. We had heard the claims that a “burr mill” grinder makes good coffee taste better by grinding the beans evenly each time.. We bought a “Mr. Coffee Burr Mill Grinder” at Targets in Kona. There is no doubt that it does a substantially better job grinding the beans and it smells fantastic as it is grinding.

We prefer coffee pots that come with a metal carafe that keeps the coffee hot for a long time. We bought a Zojirushi, Japanese coffee pot that got great reviews online and had the right carafe. We had to buy it online at targets.com. One of the main improvements that this coffee pot has is that it uses cone type filters (instead of the flat type) which forces the water through all of the coffee grounds for a richer flavor. Last, but not least, we use the best water for our coffee. The tap water in Hawaii tends to be acidic and salty, so we use our favorite bottled water.

Using handpicked, perfectly roasted coffee cherries from the slopes of our volcano, ground by an burr mill, brewed in a great coffee pot using excellent water makes us look forward to waking up every morning for our many cups of Kona coffee.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living in Hawaii’s Tropical Paradise

Beach in Java - 1975
We first lived in the tropics while in high school on the island of Java. We loved the warm days, comfortable nights, and the daylight hours staying the same all year. The exotic fruits were a constant delight as were the delicious fish, shrimp, and lobster. The pace was slow and people were friendly. It was a place where we both flourished, our extra weight went away, our acne was replaced with year round tans, and the humidity felt great on our skin.

Our high school in Jarkarta
Living in tropics had its challenges, however, like the heavy rains that washed black-spitting cobras and green-pit vipers off the roofs on to sidewalks and toxic caterpillars that hid in the bushes. Our hikes in the rainforests usually required the removal of large leeches and we had to share the beaches with poisonous sea snakes with paddle shaped tails. We were in awe of the massive swarms of termites in the house that could actually blot out the view of the other side of the room and the army of ants that would instantly appear to eat any food left out by mistake. The rats in an open drainage pipe in the backyard were the size of big dogs and our house was sometimes surrounded by thousands of cute mini-toads that had poison stingers on their tongues. We came to dread the upset stomachs we got from taking quinine to ward off malaria and we had to deal with tropical diseases that the Doctors could never identify from blood tests.

Fruit in Java market

We love living in Hawaii because it has the benefits a tropical climate affords without the hazards we faced in Java.  Some newcomers to Hawaii, who are not use to living in the tropics, find it challenging to deal with the bugs, rodents, and molds that can overtake the home.  Spiders, beetles, slugs, creepy crawling things, loud frogs, and other critters thrive in Hawaii’s great weather just like we do. However, Hawaii has no venomous snakes, frogs or caterpillars. Only one type of centipede is poisonous and though B52 cockroaches are scary when they fly at you, they are not dangerous. Compared to our experiences of the tropical dangers in Java, Hawaii’s tropical challenges seem minor to us and having the rights and benefits of being a citizen in a US State is no small thing in our view.  
Chris in high school

Tyler in high school
We know many people looking for a more affordable, “better”, tropical paradise than Hawaii and they are searching among remote Pacific islands and countries in southeast Asia for a new home.  We wish them luck in their hunt, but for us Hawaii is our tropical paradise and the most wonderful place in the world that we have ever lived.