Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nook Color: the e-reader/tablet for the masses?

You've heard about the recent run on the HP Touchpad tablet, but users have to wonder, will this product be supported in the future? If you have problems, where can you turn?

Well, folks who actually purchased a tablet/ereader like, say, the Nook Color (NC for short), don't have such concerns, as Barnes and Noble stands behind its product, with both in-store help as well as telephone customer support. (In addition to other goodies for Nook users who use their tablets in a brick Barnes and Noble, such as discounts and free 1-hour reading of e-books, in addition to access to its free wi-fi.) Oh, and don't forget Free Friday!

Just as important, the Nook Color is itself a well built and designed device, which only costs $250 [brand new] at Barnes and Noble and other retail outlets; you can occasionally find refurbished ones cheaper at It has a gorgeous touch screen (touch capacitive), which is quite responsive, with pinch to zoom. Yes, it has web access via wi-fi, which means no extra monthly bills. Web and many apps can be seen in either portrait or landscape orientations. Frankly, it's been $250 well spent, as I've had a hard time putting it down the last few months. As its capacities have been increased, with access to flash as well as some apps made available (with a few useful ones), it's been easy to spend loads of time on it. All good reasons why the Nook Color is the only other tablet next to the iPad that's come even close to being a real success, with over 3 million shipped. (And this was before the Touchpad fire sale.)
nook color home screen
The screen generally looks as good as the photo of the home screen above, if not better. (Forgive my photographic skills.) Its backlit, with a high pixel density, so photos and text appear clear and bright. Makes me wonder why so many people on the (often dark) subway platforms put up with the similarly dark Kindle screen (and its weird flaking when the user turns from one page to the next).

Admittedly, I was inclined to view this product favorably when I first found out about it a few months ago, as I like the cute name, the logo, as well as the kiosk setup in Barnes and Noble (as well as a live salesperson) to answer questions and allow you to try it. My opinion of the device increased when I bought it home, and opened it. Its packaging is sane and does not inspire wrap rage, as I only had to crack open the (hard cardboard) box, and slide the tablet out. No risk of getting cut, or of breaking the Nook Color while attempting to open its box. All electronics should be packaged so smartly.

A screen that's close to 7 inches long is much easier on the eyes than a smartphone when attempting to view websites or read e-books, yet small enough to easily put in your purse.

ebook text
The text is quite clear when reading an e-book, and the pages turn swiftly with a flick of the finger. (No buttons needed for this.)app with navigation buttons at bottomOne of my favorite apps, Get It Done, a free one which I like better than Springpad (and some other similar list making apps), as this one does not require me to sign in to use it, and is quite intuitive. The American Airlines app is another nice free app.

In fact, using the Nook Color in general is quite intuitive and easy. The NC comes with a short (paper) user manual, and has a more extensive one pre-loaded, which can be accessed on the home screen.
youtube screen with navigation buttons displayed
The navigation buttons at the bottom of the above screen can be accessed by pressing that half circle with the arrow that's always in the middle of the screen, at the bottom.

The same screen (a youtube video) without the navigation buttons. Oh yeah, video runs pretty well. The browser in general, while not the fastest, is decently fast. (Faster than my smartphone browser, in fact.)

Downloading books takes only seconds. While I've purchased a number of books, Barnes and Noble also offers e-book samples (which also take only seconds to download), which can be stored on your device, and viewed as many times as you like; they tend to range from 20 to up to 50 pages. You can access PDFs, as well as the epub format used by libraries, but I haven't tried the latter yet, or the loan-me feature. (However, it's been noted that Kindle only recently allowed the epub format; it was the first popular e-book reader--what took so long?)

Many tech types have purchased a Nook Color because its stock operating system is based on Android, giving them an opportunity to have a cheap yet decent tablet that's completely to their liking. But as you can see, your Nook Color straight out of the box is an excellent value--an excellent e-book reader with instant access to Barnes and Noble's extensive online offerings, web/video access via wi-fi, and many fun and productive apps. (Oh, and the children's book features and online magazines are also highly rated, and more publications are being made available all the time.)

My only real beef is the battery life, which could be better. (Someone commented about the crappy battery life of Android products--perhaps this will be improved with the rumored upcoming Nook Color 2?) This becomes noticeable because the more the features improve, the more you use the NC, and the more the battery life goes down. The other, more minor, quibble is of the boring covers available for the Nook Color from Barnes and Noble; I choose to get mine from, which has a greater variety of pretty, useful covers, which is appropriate for my pretty, useful Nook Color.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Fresh World supermarket--a fresh concept (aka eatin' good in the 'hood)?

Fresh World market exterior It's still a relatively new store, this Fresh World market. A friend said a mutual friend comes here weekly to get stuff; I said I heard about it from someone else, which brought on a trip to this market on Marlboro Pike (in a former Giant supermarket), a spacious experiment of a store. Experiment because I don't know of any other international food store of this size in Prince George's County, and certainly not inside the Beltway, and not providing such a variety of foods, at reasonable, often less expensive than elsewhere. Which is saying something, considering there's an Aldi's in the next parking lot!

One (gawking) trip turned into another, and another. When you hear that Asians tend to eat more fruits and vegetables than Americans, you get visual confirmation merely from stalking the produce section, with its array of both exotic and familiar edibles, often at nice prices:

packs of fresh spinach
varieties of fresh coconut
lettuce The produce sale prices here are cheaper than Shopper's--and the regular prices, too!

fresh herbsMore fresh herbs for the same price as other grocery stores (even if the herb's name is sometimes misspelled).

Asian greens such as yu choy Some of the wide variety of Asian vegetables, especially greens such as yu choy.

Korean cabbageKorean cabbage, large and flat, next to "regular" cabbage, both at a great price. There's also lots of packaged tofu at inexpensive prices.

On the left is lemongrass, and on the right is fresh turmeric--how often do you find that? (Of course, I had to get some turmeric.)

frozen durianEven frozen durian--which is not for the faint of heart! (Not that I've personally tried fresh or frozen durian, but made the mistake of buying (but not trying) durian-flavored wafer cookies; couldn't eat them because of the stench that flew out when I cracked open the wrapping. And this was a dried, processed durian product!) No way I'd try a fresh or frozen durian, as it would make me faint outright from the smell.

And that's just the produce section! Don't get me started on my favorite section, the tea area (and its reasonable prices for good-quality ordinary green tea):

green tea There is also a wide variety of Thai tea, as well as more tea and coffee than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and there are aisles of Jamaican/Indian food, as well as Latin American/Peruvian food, Japanese and Korean noodles, Asian snacks and desserts, as well as American breakfast cereal, sundries, Mexican cheeses and beverages, seafood (which was larger than the meat section), and the wonders of the frozen food aisles. There's also a pasta section, which even includes whole grain pastas, as well as pizza and spaghetti sauce, as well as breads (with a focus on Latin American breads and pastries), with a smattering of Filipino breads. Hey, where'd the yummy Filipino purple yam bread go?

frozen Asian dessert pops Not sure if they're pictured here, but I enjoyed the black sesame frozen pops--tempted to try varieties like the taro and jackfruit flavors shown above.

Now, you hear complaints about some international stores about the smell, especially from the seafood. There are occasional problems with that here, but as the store is fairly large (and relatively neat), you only notice it when you get close to the seafood section. Even Mom mentioned that other grocery stores had this problem at times, if the seafood's not also kept on ice.

With its wide variety of foodstuffs, and the diversity of clientele, as well as neighborhood people shopping, this store has potential to be an asset to its community. It's in a fitting locale, in the same shopping center as a large (and also reasonably priced) gym, the Capital Sports Complex, the former Run 'n' Shoot. Speaking of the nearby fitness center, seems that many of the fitness minded flock to this market. Hope that many more join them.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Holiday spice and everything nice, without sugar!

Bengal Spice tisane and Hot Cinnamon Sunset black teaIt seems almost like a dare, a challenge--the claim that Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Sunset black tea blend is naturally sweet. Of course, this raised my hackles when I read this boast, but I decided to buy some anyway, as I've enjoyed Harney's quality tea in the past. I was pleasantly surprised--it's true, there is no need to add sweetener to this tea! A hot cup of this brew will have your home or office smelling like Christmas in no time, and you enjoying this beverage repeatedly. It's no surprise that this is the company's best-selling tea, and I brought a some as gifts for a couple of people (as well as gifted myself). What a great way to enjoy the warming taste of cinnamon and its gift of health.

The only other beverage that is in the same league, in intensity of flavor and fragrance, is the Celestial Seasonings' tisane (herbal blend) Bengal Spice, which I've also enjoyed many times, but always like a chai, with milk and sugar. This time I decided to try it naked (it could never be plain), steeped only with boiling water, no sugar added. Another hit! (And cheaper to boot, available in any grocery store.) If it only came in a tin during the holiday season, I might buy some as a gift...

* * *
What's with the recent spate of nutmeg scare stories in the local news outlets? Why now? I can't imagine meth use (or any other drug use) is going down during a recession, so what gives?

I'm offended by such utter ignorance parading as news, because my mother, most esteemed baker among her family and friends, always almost used nutmeg in her baked goods--cakes and pies--and the delicious practice was handed down to me. Later I discovered that nutmeg is also used in savory dishes, especially in spinach dishes. Perhaps if the nutmeg-toking young'uns actually cooked, sometimes with nutmeg, they probably wouldn't be tempted to (or have the time for) foolishness such as getting high.

I'm saddened when only scare stories of a common, natural substance (which is harmless when used sensibly) are promulgated, as this means that its benefits will be overlooked. I first remember reading about the healthful properties of common kitchen spices in a December 1997 Vegetarian Times article, "The Baker's Trio: our favorite holiday spices do double duty as flavorings and healers."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cyber Monday? Is it a good deal?

Frankly, not sure what the fuss is about Cyber Monday, as if you have Internet access, you can find great deals any time of the year, when you need them. It might be better to keep in mind which retailers offer good deals and service (important with electronics, which is probably the biggest engine for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping).

For instance, a couple of months ago, my cheapie Polaroid tanked on me--a plastic hinge chipped off, making it impossible to keep the battery door on without a rubber band. The Canon (a basic PowerShot AS1000), while a good camera in many ways, requires a two-finger trick maneuver to open the battery door, making it impractical for me to use--maybe it's meant for guys, so it's in reserve (maybe I could re-gift it?).

Anyway, I was in need of a decent camera, and knew that online was the best way to go, as retail stores tend to do a switch and bait with regard to digital cameras. (I assume that switch and bait occurs on a more massive scale with Black Friday sales, but I digress.) I perused some of the regular bargain sites, and knew that I wanted the basic Panasonic Lumix point and shoot available, whatever it was, as I've seen photos and video shot with the higher end Lumix cameras, which had me drooling. Anyway, saw the Lumix DMC-FH20 on the Costco website, and had to get it.

Not only because of the camera's features, such as being lightweight with a slim profile, image stabilization, 14.1 megapixels, an 8x optical zoom, and a 2.7 inch LCD screen (and more!) as explained in this video from B & H Photo Video Audio Pro (the New York superstore that's a knowledgeable source for digital, audio, and video equipment with decent prices, too)....

...I am also impressed by the bonuses that Costco throws in for the price of its Panasonic Lumix cameras, such as a camera case, a (long-life) lithium battery and recharger, and a 2GB SD card, as well as a 90-day return policy and free technical support, all of which makes the low Costco price frankly lower than other online outfits (including Amazon). Because many online Costco deals last for two weeks, it's best to check Costco's site (and others) periodically, so no waiting until Cyber Monday is necessary to get that deal!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday shopping, at Capital Teas

Although the Christmas sights, sounds, and smells at the National Harbor today were nice, like the outdoor holiday market...
outdoor holiday market at National Harbor
And the Christmas tree (oddly enough, however, overshadowing the statue The Awakening, already in an awkward place)... Christmas tree at National Harbor I was at National Harbor to stop by one of my favorite stores there, Capital Teas, to pick up a couple of things. One of those things being a non-tea related item, a grapefruit soy candle by Votivo (like to have a nice, safe, scented candle around for the holiday season), which I'm highly pleased with. And, of course, tea. But not the fabulous decaf blackcurrent tea, which I haven't yet completely drunk up, but a nice cardamom black tea, because I don't currently have any cardamom in the house, and I love cardamom in hot drinks, especially tea. (Actually, I enjoy cardamom in my food and drink, period.) Perhaps because the harbor is not really a place for discount sales, the area was full of holiday shoppers, yet it had a pleasant, civil ambience. Which is why I went there and avoided other shopping areas like the plague (even the grocery store--I wasn't taking any chances).

Perhaps because drinking tea promotes calm clarity the store selling it had a pleasant buzz, though it was almost full. Thus, when I got home with my small haul, I had a pleasing cup to look forward to this increasingly chilly day...
hot cup of cardamom tea from Capital Teas

Christmas is on the way...

Before the Black Friday sales actually start, before hearing Chuck Brown's rendition of Merry Christmas Baby, you know Christmas is coming when you see these lights after the Thanksgiving meal, as I have every Thanksgiving evening on the way home from auntie's house...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoying Thanksgiving today with family and friends (over the river and through the woods...oops, wrong holiday), making sure to provide a small gift to the hostess, a jar of homemade cranberry sauce, so easy, yet homey and personal at the same time. Very thankful for those family and friends, although we sometimes have our, ahem, moments. Hope your Thanksgiving is as fantastic!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Relaxing...high above the city (the Bishop's Garden)

Mount Saint Alban highest point in Washington DC At the highest point in Washington, Mount Saint Alban, on the grounds of the National Cathedral, is a hidden gem known as the Bishop's Garden. While only three acres, and a few feet from the intersection of Wisconsin and Cathedral Avenues, this verdant space seems miles away from the fuss of the city.
an entrance to the Bishop's Garden On the other side of the gate is a spacious area, perfect for reflecting, quiet rendezvous, etc.:

open garden area
An even more intimate public spot awaits the other side of the open area, the gazebo:


from inside the gazebo
The gazebo is an informal border between the open area and the smaller, yet interest packed, garden itself, which is patterned after a monastery garden in the English fashion.

Naturally, this means there are quite a few types, and colors, of roses in a relatively small area, even on a crisp November day:

drooping orange rose
another orange tinged rose

pink rose
as well as other traditional English flowers, such as the foxglove.
foxglove flowers

At the margins of the garden are interspersed various religious carvings:

carving over pond
And items such as a replica of a medieval baptismal font, surrounded by rosemary:

medieval baptismal font surrounded by rosemary
Speaking of herbs, they're here in abundance--sage, thyme, lavender, and of course, rosemary...
purple sage

thyme bushes

Last, but not least, the Herb Cottage...

All this herb gazing when done viewing the garden means it's time to visit The Herb Cottage as a last stop before heading out. The cottage, outside and in, is as quaint as you'd imagine.

entrance to The Herb CottageDon't let the cuteness fool you--this is a great place to pick up inexpensive garden and herb gifts.
fragrance and personal care items for sale in the herb cottage

jams and preserves for sale in the herb cottage

more preserves and teaware for saleSome products are even produced especially for the Herb Cottage, such as many of the jams and preserves seen above. I had to get a couple of items, under the rubric that I needed them, which was somewhat true--I was running low on coriander, so I purchased whole coriander seed, as well as hard mill soap, both under the Bishop Garden label. (Can I call it a brand?) And even had a couple of bucks over from a $10 bill after the purchase. Shockingly, I didn't buy any of the tea there, some of which is served at the Cathedral's tour and tea. (Then again, I haven't taken that tour. Yet.)