Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kindle Touch

Standard disclosure: I work for Amazon but I do not have any non-public, relevant information about the Kindle in any capacity. In fact, I purposely try to avoid learning any such information. I don't have any special insights into product directions, decisions made regarding Kindle devices, etc. This is merely a collection of my thoughts as a technology enthusiast/consumer.

Sorry it's been so quiet here. I think about this blog regularly, but whenever I come up with a good topic I realize that I have to recuse myself because I don't know if my thoughts on certain subjects would accidentally count as yielding secrets. I've also been a little behind on news so I figure that very untimely commentary wouldn't be valuable. I'm hoping to have more time in the next couple of months though to come up with fresh topics for blog posts on a somewhat regular basis. Anyway, on to the topic at hand...

Kindle Touch Review

I'd ideally start off with my backstory about the Kindle and how I thought it was initially a silly idea and all that jazz, but I've already spoken about all that in my review of the Kindle 3. My opinions on the Kindle and e-Ink in general remain the same. I probably read 2, maybe 3 books in all of last year (I'm not counting reference material I flipped through at work). In the past 11 months (since I got my Kindle 3) I've read six novels, half of another novel, four travel books for a vacation, a short book that's really a collection of essays, more than a fourth of the Bible, and a few white papers (not to mention several samples of books I intend to read). It's definitely made a big difference. What I'd like to talk about in this review is my experience with the Kindle Touch compared to the Kindle 3 (I'll refer to it as the Kindle Keyboard to be more consistent with the slightly confusing re-branding).

I got a Touch because as much as I loved my Kindle Keyboard, I also had a few nagging frustrations with it. Namely, I didn't like using the d-pad. I called this out in my initial review and I stand by it - it's too easy to hit other buttons and takes a while when you use it to navigate around a page for things like looking up words, highlighting, or referencing footnotes, all of which I did regularly. Even navigating a large collection of documents was a bit of a chore. Additionally, it was a bit sluggish when reading some PDFs and could even be unstable if I flipped around too much. Plus, the keyboard wasn't all that easy to use - it just felt awkward. Anyone I know can vouch for my love of physical keyboards - I've been hanging on to my Palm Pre for dear life and may soon have to part with it because I'm getting sick of HP's abandonment of it (but that's a story for another post). Reading on the Kindle Keyboard was still great overall, but I moved to the Kindle Touch in the hopes that it would polish some pieces that I felt needed polish. Did it? Let's explore.

We'll start with the hardware: it's a very attractive device. I thought the Kindle Keyboard looked nice, but the Kindle Touch makes it look like yesterday's news. I was initially concerned that the silver color would be unattractive because I really liked the graphite of the Kindle Keyboard as it just looked nice and made it harder to retain natural wear and tear, but I actually like the body of the Kindle Touch even better. Not to be vain, but it looks like a more expensive device than it is - it's not gaudy, just polished. The bezel is smooth, slightly metallic (not enough so to weigh it down), and mildly reflective but not shiny enough to produce excessive glare. The back matches the color on the front except for being more rubbery for an easier grip and having a darker silver border. At the bottom of the front you've probably seen what looks like a speaker grill in pictures, which seems silly in a device primarily targeted at reading. Well, it's actually a home button. I actually think it's a neat home button - it's different from most devices in this form factor and it's at the perfect stiffness to press. I know that sounds weird, but I mean that you can rest your thumb on it for while you're reading without accidentally pressing it, but it's not necessarily hard to press when you need to press it - it's just right. At the bottom side there's the standard micro USB port, headphone jack, a very tiny light, and the power button. I don't actually like the new power button. They designed it small to save space, but it's easier to press as opposed to the Kindle Keyboard where you had to slide it and it hid a cleverly placed light. I don't find myself accidentally hitting it much, but it seems quite easy to do so. At the bottom of the back are the speakers - not all cases have holes cut out for these, but I rarely use them myself. There's also two connectors for the leather lighted cases (which are still on backorder *grumble*). Overall, I love the way it feels in my hands - the weight and size are just perfect. It's slightly lighter than the Kindle Keyboard (trivially so) and not really thinner, but I do appreciate that it's shorter since it's no longer supporting a physical keyboard.

The big question when you start talking about the software is the touch sensitivity. This was my biggest reservation as this is not your standard touchscreen technology. Back in the old days, we started with inductive, or resistive, touchscreens (think back in the days of using a stylus). Pressing down on a screen wasn't elegant, but it worked. The iPhone popularized capacitive touch in consumer electronics and it's become an industry standard ever since. The problem with capacitive touch, as I understand it, is that it requires glass, which sucks if you want to eliminate glare (as any of you with a modern smartphone is well aware). Hence, the Kindle Touch uses infared technology, much like its Barnes and Noble competitor. The screen is sunk in just a tad more than the Kindle Keyboard, and on closer inspection one may notice a really thin line cut into the edges of this framing where the IR field is created. The good news is that this means you don't need human hands or sausages to interact with the screen - you can have gloves on and it'll still work (great news for those of us in colder climates). The bad news is that it's not as reliable as most modern smartphones. It can be a bit temperamental. It's actually much more accurate than I had predicted it'd be, but you do have to be fairly deliberate in what you do. You can't be as liberal as with capacitive touch - even though you don't have to press down on the screen like inductive touch, you do have to make sure you get enough surface area contact to register touches. Also frustrating: there's no feedback that a touch was registered. At times, there's enough lag in specific operations that you may accidentally do something twice and cause yourself frustration. It's not a common issue, but it can happen. I don't know why they couldn't have button presses black out the button to show that it was touched - maybe that'll be in a future update.

That all being said, I still prefer the touch interface to using the buttons on the Kindle Keyboard, overall. While I never minded previous page and next page much, it's so much more intuitive to tap things than to use the d-pad. And small touches were added to the UI to account for this, which I love. The keyboard is way better than the physical keyboard - while there's a bit of a delay in showing what you typed if you're a touch typist like me who's used to cranking out 80-100 WPM (or 40 WPM on my Pre's physical keyboard), the accuracy is impressive. Nothing fancy like swype on Android or anything, but you really shouldn't need that stuff anyway when you're taking notes or searching. Gestures are really intuitive - page forward and page back are swiping left and right, respectively, and next/previous chapter are swipe up/down, respectively. Looking up words, checking footnotes, and highlighting text is faster and easier before (there was actually random delays sometimes in highlighting with the Kindle Keyboard that I no longer experience on the Touch). Tapping for previous page and next page work great, too, and one handed reading is overall just as easy or perhaps easier than before. Getting to the context menu is easy, too, just tap at the top of the screen. That will also show you what page number you're on in the book, which reminds me of another note: the screen real estate is used a lot smarter. Aside from just where you tap, I feel like the top and bottom of the screen are used more efficiently to maximize space for reading - reminiscent of the experience of using an iPad and having Apple maximize the available screen space. Very smart.

There are a few other bonuses, too. Pinch to zoom works - it will increase or reduce text size by 1 in normal books and will actually perform zooming in PDFs. This makes reading PDFs much easier. Given the restrictions of e-Ink technology, there's still a delay as before, but I feel like it's still a slight bit faster. Plus, PDFs fit on the screen better now, aside from the improvements with zooming. Unfortunately, you can't change screen orientation, but I'm hoping that enough people are providing feedback on this that they'll fix this oversight (the Kindle org has been good about this in the past with customer feedback). The screen savers are significantly better than the Kindle Keyboard. Not only are they not ugly renderings of famous writers, but they're, dare I say, cool. They actually kind of make you excited to turn on your Kindle because they represent the Kindle brand well in clever ways (like pencils up close or wooden blocks with Kindle letters prominent or ink) and they're super sharp. Unlike with the Kindle Keyboard, I don't see myself getting sick of them. As far as device performance compared to the Kindle Keyboard, it's slightly faster. It's not enough of a difference for them to have marketed it on the product page, but it's noticeable to me. It's not just the fact that you can choose to have it only black out the screen for page loads once every four screens (which, amazingly, doesn't leave artifacts of the previous page like the Kindle Keyboard would), but I feel like boot up/shut down is slightly faster, opening books are faster, definitions lookups are way faster, etc. It's little things that I notice that I'm pleased with with performance, but it's nothing dramatic. The Kindle Store works a lot better on this device - it's just a better interface overall. It makes more sense and it's prettier. I'm really happy with it.

The biggest bonus, aside from touch, is X-ray. I love this feature. I can't believe how awesome it is. I have it on a few of my books (including The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, if you want to try it on a free one), and it's coming in quite handy with The Girl Who Played with Fire, which I'm reading right now. I find myself turning to it quite a bit to recall characters that haven't come up in several chapters or Swedish places/terms I'm not familiar with. It loads excerpts from Wikipedia for terms and short bits from Shelfari for some characters. It also shows you a blueprint of where mentions of the character or term occur in the book and you can easily browse these selections. It's quite fast and quite accurate as far as figuring out what people and terms are relevant. You can show these lists for the current page, chapter, or whole book so it's easy to find what you're looking for. It's not available for all books, but all my purchased novels seem to have it so it's not that uncommon on popular novels.

I have a couple of quick negatives that haven't fit in any of the categories above. Not all games ("active content") work on the Touch that worked on the Keyboard. If this is a dealbreaker for you, check your games' detail pages to see the "Available on these devices" text that has an arrow you can hover over to list the supported Kindles. I'm hoping that publishers can modify their games to work on the Touch, but I haven't seen official word on this. If someone has an answer on this, please leave a comment because I'm curious. Additionally, when upgrading to a new Kindle you have to download all your items one-by-one and re-create your collections. That's super annoying. Hopefully, the Kindle folks will fix this in the future since they already made a change to back up your personal documents to the cloud just before the announcement of the new Kindles, which makes downloading those to new devices easier, at least. (By the way, there's a sale until Jan 2 where top selling games are $1, several of which are Touch compatible - I'm not big on the Kindle games, but some of them are rather entertaining)

Alright, I've said enough - time for a verdict. Should you get a Kindle Touch? If you don't have a Kindle Keyboard, it's a no-brainer, in my opinion, that you should. If you have an older Kindle, you're due for an upgrade anyhow. If you don't have one, then you should embrace e-Ink. If you're really scared, pick up the cheapest Kindle and try it out - I really don't think you'll be disappointed. I've played with that one and while I prefer Touch, it's still an improvement over the Kindle Keyboard (though it doesn't have X-ray or speech-to-text). The ads aren't very intrusive and you can easily pay later to turn them off if you hate them so that it'd end up being the price of the ad-free version. If you have a Kindle Keyboard, it's really a judgement call. Are you sick of the d-pad? Do you want one of the new leather cases where the Kindle fits nicely rather than having to fit it into two hooks? Do you want a smaller device? Do you wish reading PDFs was easier? If these things really bother you, like they did for me, go for it. I think for many people, the answer will be no. In fact, I'd recommend for gadgets with annual releases to buy every other iteration. It's the holiday season though so you may consider gifting your Kindle Keyboard (de-registering and wiping is easy) and upgrading to the Touch. I don't at all regret my decision - the more I use it the more I love it. Opinions out there are somewhat mixed, but seem to be leaning positive. Feel free to go to a Staples, Best Buy, etc. and try it out for yourself. I really feel like they kept all the stuff about the Kindle Keyboard that was great (like the ease of use, display, form factor, battery life, etc) and evolved in fixing some of the key misses with the user experience. While I still think there's some touch ups that can be left for future iterations, I'm really happy with the direction that it has moved in.

Addendum: I spoke to a Kindle rep about my frustrations with regard to active content and I was told that Amazon is actually working with publishers to make their games Touch compatible. You won't need to re-buy your games for the Touch (unless you're using the games on 6 Kindles already), they'll just get fixed to work and you'll be able to download them from your archived items.

Addendum #2 (5/10/2012): The latest over-the-air software update adds support for text-to-speech, landscape mode, and some other nifty additions like a modal dialog for the table of contents of a book and translation of words to a few different languages.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The End of an Era

I brainstormed several titles for this post and nothing I come up with seems to be substantial enough. I have to admit that when I heard the news a couple of days ago that Steve Jobs was stepping down from being CEO, I got a little emotional. Part of it was the way he worded it:

"I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come."

Given his medical complications in recent years, there's something really haunting about those words. What really got to me though was the sudden thought that two of my childhood idols were no longer sitting in the seats of power they once held: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are now both down for the count. Even typing those words scares me a bit - aside from the fact that it makes me feel old, it's really the end of an era.

I think my posts make it pretty clear that I'm not a fan of Apple products - I believe that they're high quality, I just don't agree with their some of their key philosophies and I think most Apple products are overpriced. As a person, I don't care much for Steve Jobs either. There are plenty of good stories about him but I'm more familiar with the ones where he manages his employees with praise and fear (moreso than sounds healthy). However, as Elle Driver would say, that shouldn't suggest that I don't respect him. His impact on technology is incontrovertible - he really made making technology beautiful stick. When you look at the history of gadgetry, Apple was the first major player to successfully focus on external design just as much as internal design. Even Mac OS was known for being one of the first pieces of a software with a usable GUI. I even first learned how to type in grade school on Apple Macintosh IIs (and fondly remember playing the Oregon Trail - if I was lucky I got to play on the one computer with a CD-ROM drive). A world without the innovations and risks taken by Apple with Steve Jobs at its helm would be a scary place (much like the one depicted in their 1984 ad). A lot of moves that Jobs has made over the years have been really ballsy, and while I know a lot of people make that possible past just the CEO, I would not underestimate the importance of a CEO with strong vision.

With someone like Steve Jobs, you take the good with the bad. His biggest flaw, in my opinion, is his hubris. You don't have to watch Pirates of the Silicon Valley to observe this (fair warning: that movie is very much a caricature of all its characters). His 2005 Stanford commencement address is pretty famous and definitely an incredible speech, and yet it still reflects that he can really be a jerk sometimes. He lets loose a bit at a few points in his speech and leaves out pivotal details in his speech that paint him out to be a hero in situations that weren't so black and white. He's green lit ads that have held no punches in obviously attacking competitors, a practice that I remember not being so common once upon a time. He runs press events that extol the virtues of perfectly mundane evolutions to existing products. However, it's for all these things that people love Steve Jobs. All these things have made him a fascinating CEO and a generational icon.

The era I'm referring to as ending is not that of Apple - the Board is leaving the company in good hands with Tim Cook, now former COO, at the helm. Plus, Steve Jobs has set things in motion for at least a year or two, so we won't see Cook's direct impact for a while yet. The era I'm referring to also involves Bill Gates. I find it tremendously ironic that Gates is often marred for the antitrust issues with Microsoft and forgotten for his philanthropic efforts whereas Jobs is lauded for his sometimes questionable tactics with Apple and forgotten for his lack of philanthropy. At the end of the day, both men have done some incredible things and basically built personal computing. Gates had just as much vision as Jobs, but he handled it totally differently. He's not the pretty face of a company, he's the understated nerd that turns wheels in the background. Maybe the things he's led at Microsoft aren't as sexy as what Apple has done, but definitely equally important. I mean come on, the man invented bold text! Let's face it, the world would be a very strange place without Office and Windows. Apple would have you believe that Windows is a complete knock off of what they've produced over the years, but the truth is that Windows has made significant innovations, as well. If you need a more recent, obvious example: how about the Kinect?

I feel like with Gates and Jobs out of the picture, the model of technology that's worked for decades really is dead. Shrink wrap software has been gradually losing ground to digital distribution and web applications. The most talked about tech companies these days are now Google and Facebook. The world is a very different place. People don't care about the next Windows or the next OS X - they care about the next smartphone they can get. The era that Gates and Jobs eschewed is over, and I feel like we're now fully underway in a whole new phase in the history of technology. Needless to say, I'm excited to be at a company that's a big part of that timeline, as well, but we can never forget our roots. For all the above reasons and more, Mr. Jobs and Mr. Gates, I salute you. We'll do our best to take good care of what you started.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Google +

I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I promise I've been thinking of the blog! I listfully look at my computer every night before I inevitably crawl into bed because life has been so busy. Today I finally got some time to jot down my thoughts about Google Plus! If you haven't checked it out at all yet, now's as good a time as any to spend a couple of minutes with the demo.

If you had two scoops of ice cream, let's call the flavors Facebook and Twitter, and you smashed them together but then you decided to share your concoction with that oddball at work you don't like for whatever reason, you'd have Google Plus. It takes the best from both worlds, but then it integrates with other services, even if they are competitors, via our old friend Google Buzz. Google Buzz was a half-baked Twitter-like experience from Google that all but the most devout Google fans were quickly turned off of because of the several issues Google simply didn't think through. What's different between Google and some other tech companies is that a lot of people there tend to think the same over time. I'm not saying they're not smart people, but without natural discord you can't develop the ideas that appeal to a mass audience, and that's what I feel like went wrong with Buzz. With Google Plus, they took a different approach - they started it out as a very limited release (like back with Gmail and Google Voice) and are opening the floodgates over time so that they can iron out the kinks. This strategy, I feel, is working much better for them. It feels like not only did they learn from Google Buzz what people were really looking for, but they managed to fix user concerns very quickly before everyone and their mom started hearing about Google Plus.

So anyway, you might be wondering - why should you care about Google Plus? You've stuck with Facebook, in spite of Twitter and Google Buzz and whatever else - why jump ship? A friend of mine shared this (on Google Plus, no less), so I'm going to share it with you:

Pretty elegant way of putting it, isn't it? Google should definitely hire those people to help them pimp their products. At first, I totally agreed with what I think is the reaction of most people: why do we need another Facebook? The interface was a pretty big change from Facebook and there wasn't an app for it on my phone. To be honest, I really hated it. I was surprised at how quickly my opinion turned around of it though. The main things I liked is that it's the first social networking site I've seen that has really put privacy at the forefront and it has a clean UI. It's a well known fact in the security world that convenience comes at the cost of security and privacy, so it is an issue that whenever you share anything on Google Plus, you have to choose exactly what circles you want to share it with - but if you keep your list of circles small it's not such a big deal. Granted, it'd be better if there was a circle hierarchy but that's not hard to add in. I say that the UI is clean because, let's face it, Facebook has gotten too busy. It almost hurts my eyes now to go to the PC site - it's just too much. With Google Plus, as weird as it sounds, I just feel like it's a more laid back experience. Maybe it's just because I have less friends on Google Plus, but I'd like to think that Google had something to do with it.

Before I move on - there are a couple of other things I think Google Plus really got right. I love how you can share with people who aren't on Google Plus by just using their contact profile in your Gmail (i.e. just their e-mail address). I think it's smart that they just rely on e-mail for messages rather than creating a stupid hobbled way to send private messages. Another thing I like, which most people may not like, is that you don't have a wall for people to post on - they can only comment on what you post. This means people can't post immature things on your wall that you have to monitor so that your mom doesn't see them or something - you have full control over what people see (people can re-share what you've said, granted - but that's a risk in real life, too).

Press-wise, I've seen mixed things. I think the technorati (that's what I like to call the tech journalism celebrities, at least) are skeptical but appreciate the chance to start fresh since their Facebook friends list has really gotten out of control. There's still a few things to complain about though. There have been some stories about people having their Google Accounts totally deleted because of the name they're using on Google Plus. It sounds like there's a glitch in Google's algorithm for this, and it really sucks that there's not a good appeals process in place. Google has always had awful customer service, and that doesn't stop here, I'm afraid. ZD Net has a really good editorial about this. Google Plus still isn't ready for businesses to jump in and make their mark. I don't shed a tear for companies like Pepsi or McDonalds, but social networking sites are really great for helping promote local businesses and artists, and I do hope Google Plus makes way for them someday soon. Though they do have 20 million accounts so far, so it's a pretty strong start anyhow.

So Google Plus has an energized initial user base but also has had a few black eyes from the press - do they have what it takes to become a major player? I think they definitely do. The older I get the more pessimistic I become about technology (I'm not the wide-eyed optimist I was back in my older posts when I was in college), but something rubs be right about Google Plus. Google has had a number of misfires over the past few years, but I think this one just may stick. If anyone can compete with Facebook, it'll be Google Plus. I don't think they'll be able to overtake Facebook like Facebook overtook MySpace or MySpace overtook Friendster simply because Facebook has really hit critical mass now. However, I think Facebook has alienated its users enough over the years that Google Plus can really gain some ground, even if it ends up catering to more of a niche audience like Gmail. I think it's a really smart move for Google and I hope they really invest fully in making it a solid product. It clearly has a lot left that they can do with it (why can people on Picasa but not Google Plus not see the pictures I shared with them?), but I'm definitely impressed that they've managed to innovate so much so far. At the very least, it's nice to see someone rattle Facebook's cage a big, isn't it?

PS This is my 900th post. Happy 900th to me! :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Super 8

Super 8 Review

I think putting spoilers in a movie review are stupid - they defeat the point of a review for most readers. So you won't find any here.

J.J. Abrams is a really interesting guy. I think he's one of the more divisive figures in filmmaking and television for a very good reason: he's daring. One of the things that Jeff Bezos is often as quoted as saying and bleeds through into the culture at Amazon is the idea that you shouldn't be afraid to be misunderstood. Abrams clearly has that in his mind because, depending on who you ask, Lost, Alias, and Star Trek are brilliant or awful. He gives everything he does his all and even though his bets don't always pan out (*cough*Cloverfield*cough*) you have to respect his innovative spirit.

Super 8 isn't necessarily the most novel idea in the world, but there's something to be said for taking a genre that's basically been dead for years and using it to tell a really engaging story. The genre isn't disaster movies - God knows we've had way too many of those in the past few years. It's the movies that I recall from when I was little that were probably slightly before my time where it was a mysterious thriller that put flashy special effects in the backseat of a movie you couldn't help but have fun watching. It may not have been up for any Oscars, but you really enjoyed it. I'm afraid of giving examples of this sort of film because I think I risk spoiling the movie, but the point I'm trying to get across is that it's actually great cinema. Even though there are some cheap shots at making you jump in your seat, the thriller aspect takes a backseat to storytelling, suspense, and mystery.

The plot is a very simple concept: a group of kids (presumably in late middle school or early high school) are making a horror film and get caught in the middle of a huge train accident while shooting one particular scene. Strange things start happening around town right after the accident. On paper, it sounds pretty silly, and the main characters are mostly no-names. However, I could really identify with these kids. Even though they're living in a time years before I was even born, their interactions with each other felt so genuine. There was even a part where they were filming a scene and one of them was being an awful actor and I thought it was really meta how good he was at pretending to be a bad actor. I cringe sometimes to watch movies centered around young kids because they often treat them in an almost cartoonish way and I think this movie gave them some dignity and real character development and I really appreciated that.

The main drawback the film had was probably the pacing. It felt a little uneven, and I imagine that will turn off some audiences. It's not an action packed two hours - it's a mystery movie at the heart of it. In fact, I almost was disappointed in its cheap shots at the audience with the moments that made you jump in your seat. It wasn't a horror movie so I thought it was odd to have those moments in there.

All in all though, it's definitely worth seeing. The big reveal is not lame like in most of M Night Shayamalan's movies and they really keep you guessing as to which of the possibilities in your head is the right one. Don't go and see it expecting lots of action and special effects, but go and see it because you appreciate heartfelt filmmaking. It earns an A- rating from me.

Oh, and sorry about being MIA. Time has flown by and I've been surprisingly busy. I will do my best to get out an original post I've been toying with later this week.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Euro Trip 2011

Sorry it's been a while since my last post but I've been busy vacationing! I thought I would blog my favorite photos from the trip since sharing is caring. I picked just 42 of my 400+ snapshots, but I hope you'll enjoy them! By the way, you can click on any picture to enlarge it. I just made them smaller so this page is easier to load.


We began our trip in Dublin, which is a charming little city with very nice people. We were pretty jet lagged on the first day, but we found the strength to drink some beer at the Guiness factory. Here's the ingredient that gives Guiness its trademark color and flavor: malted barley.

It was hard getting good pictures from the Gravity Bar at the top, which offered 360 degree views of Dublin, but I did my best.

We were very amused by this T-shirt in the gift shop and were tempted to buy it.

We were able to draw several parallels between Seattle and Dublin, one of which being the oddities of public transit. It looks like Dubliners are as happy with their public transit as we are.

I was advised on the plane ride into Dublin by a nice Irish girl to see the Leprechaun Museum. I thought that this clearly must've been a joke, until we found a pamphlet on the ground outside Dublin Castle as well as this sign on the street (which was pointing the wrong way because a guy turned it, dressed as a leprechaun, and decided to make some money off tourists).

The Liffey!


Next up on our trip was London, and our first night I finally had some proper cod and chips at a true neighborhood pub (we were the only tourists there).

The street we stayed on was lined with hotels, but was still very pretty.

We saw the traditional sights (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc), but those are all pretty pedestrian. How about a really pimp hotel instead? (we didn't go inside, but it looked awesome)

The British Library didn't allow pictures inside (though it was a really awesome little museum), but the British Museum did and it was pretty incredible. I loved the entrance design.

Aside from the Rosetta freaking Stone and some really great mummies and stuff, there was plenty of other cool artifacts there.

Tower of London from the Tube station:


I'd been to Brussels before (more pictures from Belgium from my last trip here) so I knew there wasn't a ton to do there, but you can't visit Brussels and not get a Belgian Waffle:

We managed to stay pretty close to the main plaza, which had pretty nice views at night.


I've been to Paris before, as well, and I have pictures from that trip posted here if you're interested. It was still fun going back there though and I saw several things I hadn't seen before, including this tree that I just thought was really beautiful (at the Tuilleries Garden).

We followed the Garden up to the Louvre.

I saw this when we were crossing the Seine and I thought it was really cool because it sounded exactly like the proper Sphinx described in the mythology regarding Oedipus.

We went to the Hotel des Invalides (a Hotel Napolean built for injured soldiers that's now a war museum) and they had a room of really cool models of various towns and cities and such built for military strategy, including a model of the place you may recognize from The Count of Monte Cristo film.

Though I have plenty of Eiffel Tower shots, it was too nice of a day out to not take one more from a different side.

My friends endured my pleas to swing by the Dali Espace in Montmartre and I really enjoyed it - this was my favorite piece that they had on display.

The last time I was at the Arc de Triomphe, they were doing a ceremony so I couldn't get too close to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but I got closer this time.

We saw a pretty decent sized orchestra in the subway one afternoon, and they were really talented. Just not something you see every day!

The last thing we saw in Paris before we left was Notre Dame and it was my first trip to the crypt underneath where they had ruins from Paris that once was, and it was just really neat to see.


Rome was the last city on our tour, and you can see many pictures from my last trip there highlighting some the big stuff to see there here. We stayed at a pretty good bed and breakfast right in the heart of the area around Vatican City, which gave us a chance to really live like a Roman, and I really took a shine to this particular piece of grafiti because there are so many funny things about it (not the least of which being that he didn't say 'love').

This is the organ at Santa Maria del Popolo, and I just thought it was really pretty how it was designed to look like angels are holding it up.

That church is on one side of the busy Piazza del Popolo, with this being the view from the middle - very symmetrical.

The Borghese Gardens were another new thing I hadn't ventured out to at all on my last trip, and it's basically a smaller version of Central Park. I was really taken aback by the massive trees they had there.

This is just a picture I happened to like that I took at St. Peter's Basilica in the piazza. The lamp posts there were very unique.

We happened to be staying down the street from a great Irish pub (I believe we visited a pub in every city we stayed in) where my friend's Guinness had a child.

Also at that pub we noticed some pretty young kids there. Here's a picture we tried taking without being too conspicuous.

I took this picture from our balcony one morning - it was just a very nice, homely neighborhood.

The most incredible part of our trip was getting a semi-private tour of the Vatican Gardens, which were an incredible preservation of a piece of God's beautiful creation. Nothing terrible extravagant about them, just their natural beauty. By the way, this is the way to go if you want to see the Vatican Museums - you pay a little extra for the tour of the gardens, but you skip the massive line for the Vatican Museums in the process. You just need to go to their website and book at least a month in advance (you can book up to 60 days early).

The castle-like structure in the back of this shot is basically the Pope's guest house for foreign dignitaries.

There's nothing super special in this last garden shot, I just like taking pictures of pathways like these. I think it's a place for gardening to tools at the end there.

This is an unfinished sculpture from the Vatican Museums that I believe was made by Bernini. I just found it very striking - I couldn't tell you why, but something is very beautiful about her.

We saw this horse outside the Colosseum trying to eat the grass in between the stones in the ground. It was too cute/sad to not take a picture of.

This in incredible work of art is from the St. Peter-in-chains church (known for having the chains that bound St. Peter in both prisons he was famously held in) - it's Michelangelo's Moses. I'll let you guess why it's called that.

We paid a visit to the Scala Sancta - the steps Jesus carried the cross up at Pontius Pilate's crib, with 4 spots of trace amounts of Jesus's blood. Really incredible to be there and highly recommended for any Christians.

Back in Dublin

We ended our trip with one last night in Dublin, followed by probably our tastiest breakfast of the trip - a true Irish breakfast (we had that other mornings in Dublin as well, this one was just better).

Alright, that's all for now! I'll post many more photos on Facebook for those of you who actually know me in real life. I'm hoping to have another post up here in the next couple of weeks on actual tech news.