The Expanse S5 review: The show is bigger, bolder, and better than ever

Enlarge / Space is mind-bogglingly big… but what happens there may not stay there.
The science fiction space opera is by now a well-known genre, and yet somehow The Expanse is hard to describe. Let me try to sum it up at its most basic: The Expanse is a show about space. It is a show about society, about resources, about people with passions and problems and desires and—most especially—about what happens when all those things collide.
It is also, in a word, excellent. The Expanse’s fifth season is the best since its first, a long-awaited high-stakes payoff to several seasons’ worth of setup. If you drifted away from the show during earlier seasons, like something accidentally dropped in microgravity, this new season makes it worth finding a way to come back.

The setup
For the first few seasons, The Expanse was concerned entirely with our own solar system. In its vision

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Review: Epomaker GK68XS Bluetooth mechanical keyboard

Granted that Bluetooth keyboards don’t have any direct connection to ebooks, they are nonetheless an important key to making better use of the tablet that you might have gotten to do various things that include e-reading—such as, for example, going to a picturesque spot to write something that might one day become an ebook.

I’ve reviewed a number of such keyboards for TeleRead, in fact: these models by AmazonBasics and Anker, as well as an Anker keyboard cover for the iPad Mini; Julie reviewed a keyboard by Inateck, also. Which provides me with all the excuse I need to review another, because I think I’ve finally found the nearly perfect Bluetooth tablet keyboard: the Epomaker GK68XS.

I picked it up basically on a whim, when I ran across the Kickstarter funding the project in a Facebook advertisement. The design of the keyboard intrigued me, so I shelled out the cash. Some

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Kobo’s Forma e-reader takes on Kindle Oasis with an asymmetric design and premium price

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.
The $280 Forma joins a number of other e-readers in using a one-handed design, something which is, we might as well admit up front, isn’t for everyone. That said, I’ve found that my reading style on these devices has been able to adapt from one form factor to another — it’s not like they made it head-mountable or something. You still hold it like you would any other small device.
It uses an 8-inch E-Ink Carta display with 300 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for beautiful type. The frontlight — essentially a layer above the display that lights up

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WordGrinder: Distraction-Free Writing From the Command Line

WordGrinder is an old fashioned command line program that doesn’t try to do a lot of things. Its purpose is to get the job done, and stay out of the user’s way while doing it.

A few months back while perusing the latest news from the open source media, I came across an article listing five favorite command line tools, or some such nonsense. It turned out that one of the items on the list was a command line “word processor,” WordGrinder, which the article’s writer claimed to be an uber-easy way to write from the command line.
As it happened, I’d been looking for that very thing, so I immediately looked in the Mint/Ubuntu repositories, found it, installed it and took a look. Unfortunately, at the time I was busy, facing a couple of deadlines, so when I couldn’t figure the first thing out about it in five seconds or less,

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Latest Raspbian upgrade turbocharges Raspberry experience

TeleRead stalwarts may remember that I adopted a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B as a test bed to try out this tiny but popular ultra-cheap one-card compact computing solution. Initially, I wasn’t impressed, although later I had some better experiences with the hardware. My initial disappointments were based chiefly on the shortcomings of Raspberry’s preferred Raspbian OS. This version of Debian, as I reported previously, offered “painfully slow load times” when using Google Docs and when executing most browser-based tasks. That basically led me to abandon the Raspberry.
Until now. Because Raspberry has whipped up a new desktop environment for Raspbian and its associated hardware called PIXEL, “which now officially stands for ‘Pi Improved Xwindows Environment, Lightweight’.” And improved it certainly is. Not only does the new OS front end look far slicker than older versions, with a fully overhauled Windows-style interface and drop-down menus, it’s also far faster. It’s bigger

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Hyphen is nearly the best DRM-free ePub reader available for iOS

Why does iOS have so many good plain-vanilla DRM-free ePub reading applications? I already checked out Marvin, whose latest version carries on the tradition of offering a remarkable number of features in a single application. Now I’ve had a look at Hyphen, which is very nearly as good.
Hyphen is available in a free trial version, which limits you to reading the single book you just added, or a full version for $2.99. It’s certainly a worthwhile purchase at the price. My one reservation is that Marvin may make it a touch redundant.
I suppose it just goes to show how impressed I was by Marvin that while I was reading with Hyphen, I kept catching myself thinking, “That’s just like Marvin” or “That’s almost as good as Marvin.” For starters, you can add e-books to the device from Apple’s Cloud Drive, Dropbox, or Google Drive, just as with Marvin. (Though you

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Capti Narrator brings free text-to-speech to nearly any DRM-free e-book or document

I just learned about a Capti-vating new development in text-to-speech. PRWeb is carrying a press release about Capti Narrator, a free cloud-based text-to-speech Windows 64 and iOS app (Android coming soon) that will effectively read aloud just about any DRM-free document.

The press release pitches it as useful with Project Gutenberg (“50,000+ eBooks by Project Gutenberg are Now Available as Free Audiobooks” reads the headline) but perhaps the greater use for it is reading aloud pretty much any DRM-free e-book or other document you have on hand (such as titles by Baen, O’Reilly, etc.), especially if you already have it in the cloud. It will also read aloud news stories or sites you’ve saved to Instapaper—a very useful feature that goes most e-readers one better.

Not only will this be great for people with visual or reading difficulties, the press release also touts it as a way to help learn English by hearing words spoken as they’re read.

Apparently this project has been in development for a while—at least since before the 2011 death of Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart. The press release proclaims:

“I corresponded with Michael Hart when we were just starting with Capti; he told me that he saw a great purpose in our mission of enabling everyone to listen to all they want to read” – said Dr. Yevgen Borodin, the CEO of Charmtech Labs LLC. “And, today, I am thrilled to finally deliver on my promise and make Project Gutenberg eBooks available as free audiobooks to everyone!”

The app is currently available as a download for 64-bit Windows and a freemium app for iOS. (An Android version is promised soon.) The way it works is that you load your document into it and press play, and it starts reading it aloud to you using one of your system default speech-synthesizer voices. (I found two on Windows, and five on iOS.) If you want other voices, you can add them for prices ranging from $4.99 to $29.99 each. The Windows app launches in a web browser window (though it also runs in your system tray), and the iOS version is its own standalone app.

imageOn the Windows version, you can add files to your playlist from a local file, Dropbox, Google Drive, Instapaper, OneDrive, Bookshare, or Project Gutenberg. The iOS app includes this, as well as OneDrive, Pocket, the clipboard, and letting you choose particular pages with the web browser. File types can be PDF, WORD, EPUB, DAISY, HTML, and “many other digital text formats.” I tried it with my e-book Joe & Julius from my Dropbox account and it worked just fine. The ease of uploading titles from the cloud rather reminds me of the way the iOS e-reader apps Marvin and Gerty will read and parse your Dropbox for e-books.

064220F6-8FB4-4F31-8218-A86909A92D4EOnce you’ve added titles to your playlist, when you hit play, the app reads along with your book, while showing the text on the screen and highlighting it word-by-word. As expected, the result is somewhat mechanical and awkward with cadence and pronunciation of some words (contractions get short shrift: “we’re” gets pronounced as “we-ree”), but probably no better or worse than the text-to-speech functions of the Kindle or any other e-reader or app that supports read-aloud. If you’re used to using those functions, you’ll have no problems with this one either.

Furthermore, after I originally posted this story, Dr. Borodin contacted me and noted that Capti’s premium voices sound a lot better than the system default voices, as the Capti-narrated YouTube video above this article demonstrates. I didn’t actually watch through the whole video before writing this, but now that I do I have to admit that’s pretty impressive. It might actually be worth shelling out some money for one of those voices if you plan to use this system very often.

One other noteworthy aspect of the app is that it incorporates cloud playlist file and position sync. If you tell it to sync the playlist from your desktop, then sync from the mobile app (or vice versa), your Capti playlist has all the same titles in it, and it picks up right where you left off playing them.

The free version of the app will be extremely useful to the majority of readers, but there is also a premium plan available at a cost of $1.99 per month, or $9.99 for six months. It includes a number of extra features such as the ability to view any images that were incorporated in the original document as it is read aloud, the ability to translate words in your texts into any of 28 different languages, a full-text playlist search, and a linguistic game called “Word Challenge.” Though I don’t particularly need those features, I could see they would be very useful, especially to English-as-second-language students. The app strikes a pretty good balance between being useful enough for free and more useful for a slight extra cost—it’s not one of those apps where you have to pay something to get any use out of it at all.

The app could stand to be a little more user-friendly—it was a little tricky for me to find the functions to add titles to my playlist at first, and they’re in different places in the Windows and iOS versions. But once you start reading, it works surprisingly well. The voice is loud and clear, even if I don’t like the artificial way the system version sounds.

I can’t see using this program too often myself—I just can’t get past the artificiality of the computer voice. Though then again, if I buy one of the premium voices like the one that narrated that video I might change my mind. But I know that’s not a problem for many people who swear by it, and were disappointed the latest Kindles dropped the feature altogether. I predict that this free text-to-speech app will find a place on many, many computers and mobile devices.

The post Capti Narrator brings free text-to-speech to nearly any DRM-free e-book or document appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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How I turned my Raspberry Pi into a Chromebox

IMG_20160430_181119TeleRead readers will recall that I posted details of a new hack for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Pi 3 for Chromebook-using teachers and students, turning the ultra-cheap minicomputer into a Chromebox. With my own Raspberry Pi 2 lying idle at home, I decided to try this myself: and here are the results.

Installation of the new OS was as easy as expected. l unpacked the downloaded file with 7-zip and wrote it onto the Raspberry’s micro SD card with Win32diskimager; with this done, I set up my Raspberry with mouse, keyboard, HDMI cable and Ethernet plugged in, then powered it up from the monitor’s USB port. It started up first time with no problems.

How well does it work though? Startup is slow, but no slower than many Linux OS versions running on the Raspberry Pi 2. The display looks fine across a big screen, and with a Bluetooth USB adapter plugged in, the device can work fine with wireless mouse and keyboard. For web browsing, document editing on Google Docs, audio playback on YouTube, email composition on Gmail, and even Facebook, it should be enough. However, video playback is clunky and often plain inadequate, and the thing often locks up on complex web pages like Twitter. The Raspberry Chromebox does record most account settings for restart, but wifi doesn’t work, at least with the USB adapters I have – a known issue that may get fixed later.

How useful is it? For general purpose computing on the Raspberry Pi 2, it’s faster and more user-friendly than the Linux versions I’ve run on this device. I plan to use it for text editing and browsing, and am already listening to audiobooks on it. It may not be good for much more, but you get what you pay for, and with the Raspberry Pi 2, you’re paying almost nothing.

The post How I turned my Raspberry Pi into a Chromebox appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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