Month: January 2010

Kindle a feeling towards Amazon

Posted by – January 29, 2010

My loving and lovely wife has given me a Kindle for Christmas, and I also got a nice jacket for it. It is actually a very nice piece of kit - flat, smooth, good navigation buttons and a functional keyboard. Now, you might wonder why I would phrase it like that, but the sad fact is that I have got fingers that are too stupid for smartphones; and the keyboard on the Kindle is actually quite usable. One might be tempted to point to - let us call it inspiration by Apple with the white plastic and brushed aluminum casing. It seems quite sturdy, and I have been using it a lot. It is intended for people on the go, and it is good for that. I have just under an hour and a half on the subway when I go fencing at Sheridan Fencing Academy, and the same on the way back. Good to be well-equipped - and nice to be able to change books if I am in the mood for something else, without actually having to drag the entire library with me.

See the gallery for Kindle shots.

As for the content: They have certainly taken an interesting approach to integrating the gadget with the Amazon website. Included in the gadget is an unlimited access to the Amazon Kindle store online - which means that I can switch on the built-in wireless function and surf the Kindle store over Amazon Whispernet without having to attach anything else.
Surprisingly, they have not given into the temptation to lock the system down to Amazon-only text files. Maybe that is the lay of the land these days - that you can’t lock something like this to a single format, if you want to stay succesful (and aren’t Apple). It is certainly possible to use open formats and, even more surprising, use Whispernet to access eBooks files from other sources, most notably FreeKindleBooks, which offers a catalog of freely available books as an eBook, using which it is possible to download the book files on to the Kindle. These are from the Gutenberg project, an impressive project which collects electronic versions of books which are out of copyright. They scan the books and proofread the scans, crowdsourcing the effort using Distributed Proofreaders, where I have also contributed. The Gutenberg is an impressively massive text collection, and it is a beautiful that these materials are available; since these are materials out of copyright, there is a huge corpus of classics there.
Having said that, I have been shopping in the Kindle Store. I bought The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft - an anthology - for $0.99, which is quite affordable. I also bought an H. G. Wells Collection for $1.64, which I can just manage. The only book I got approaching full print price was The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, a writer I find myself increasingly fascinated by; and that one only set me back around $7. So the pricing is okay.
Actually, there is experimental support for MP3s on the Kindle. What this means is not entirely clear - I have not used it, but I have seen people use headphones with it on the subway. Whether it adds the music files to the library or how it works remains to be seen.

Interestingly, the Kindle has also lead to an interesting debate about the ownership of one piece under different media, which was covered on the Litopia podcast in the episode All the King’s Men. From the almost-amusing-but-not-quite department, there has been heated discussion about offering readings, versus having the Kindle do it for you. This was mentioned by the EFF, as one would expect, but also featured in a piece in the New York Times by Roy Blount jr, as the president of the Authors’ Guild. This is actually a very open-ended discussion of the technology offering what a human used to do.
The Free Software Foundation has an ongoing project called Defective by Design, who did a feature on the Kindle, which they like to call the Swindle due to the DRM (Digital Rights Management) features built into the machine, and the fact that the books purchased on the Amazon Kindle shop can’t be transferred to another one, as you would be able to do if you gave a printed book away after reading it.
It is quite possible that FSF goes into this application a bit more, because the Kindle, in fact, is based on Linux. In the enclosed product documentation - enclosed as in included on the Kindle - there is licensing texts of the included components. Of course the Kindle is not by a long stretch an open device - it is not the thing you can just modify - but still, it is interesting to see the Linux kernel deployed in an impressive mainstream product.

So, what is the conclusion?
That this is actually a very, very sweet device - elegant application . The ePaper concept means that it is possible to look at the screen in much the same way as regular paper - it is not like a laptop where the angle decides whether it is possible to view it or not. Also, the power is used the first time the text is displayed on the screen; this means that even though the appliance isn’t using energy, the text remains displayed on the screen. Fascinating. It was a great gift.

Channelling potentials - Denmark and US

Posted by – January 26, 2010

Okay, so I am repeating myself, but - I was looking at the Brooklyn Public Library website, and I noticed a benefit concert for the victims of the great Haiti earthquake. Which got me thinking.

The thing about US society which stands out to a Danish person is the distance between the well-off and those less so. Denmark is a rather flat society in comparison - while there is wealth in Denmark, the poverty is not great; while the unemployed are by no means wealthy, they are also not left to fend for themselves and receive a substantial grant. Those who aren’t able to make ends meet are usually people with a substance abuse or mental issues.

But there is a back side to this. In my home country, the state subsidy system leads to a perception that things are taken care of - which makes people less inclined to support issues outside of their own narrow sphere. We are committed to a supporting system - we pay high taxes - and are concerned whether the taxes are spent well - but it is also a mechanism placing a comfortable bareer between a person and the unpleasant aspects of life and society. Here, everyone is quite aware of what it means to be in an unprotected situation. A job means security in the sense that you can pay your insurance, keep your children in school and so on - but inversely, if you lose your job, it is so much more of a challenge here, which also goes a long way in explaining the way people are heavily networking - job hunting is just that. The emphasis on abilities and merit shows everywhere, too - my son’s daycare is considerably more active with teaching him things than we were used to back home, and I can feel it stimulating him. This is also a way to channel the curiousity and creativity of children, and that is not a bad thing, but a constructive one. My mother was teaching me to read long before I started school, and because I learned out of interest, I was well-equipped from an early stage. When I started learning adding and subtracting, my father explained multiplication and division to me - I remember it well, we were walking in the Julby forest - and this was such an interesting expansion of the mindset that I picked it up and played around with it. That is how I learned, and that is why Matthias will learn to pick up ideas he is presented with. I have no doubt that this schooling will equip him better for that.

There is a balance to it. I know a lot of Danish people who have come to a successful position in their lives through having tried a lot of things. People are not afraid to take a break or change direction, because the often-mentioned safety net is there. Here, people will have to hang on to their jobs, but they will also shuffle, changing directions to choose a safer and more profitable course. In Denmark, people will take a new job which is more stimulating and offer better conditions, often people mention greater responsibility; but rarely have I heard people talk about doing it for money. The tax levels mean that you will need a significant raise to be able to feel it - and since people are generally getting by, there is not much of an encouragement to go for that. Interestingly, Danes will appreciate an improvement at a 100 DKr ($20) cost considerably more than a raise of ten times that, since it gives the impression that the company is looking out for the employees.

Tee Morris: The Case of the Singing Sword

Posted by – January 7, 2010

Sometimes, strange events lead you back to a place where you have been and make you revisit past experiences.
And so, an unlikely, unfortunate and unhappy event leads me to bring up the author Tee Morris. The event is the tragic death of his wife, as I found out by Evo Terra at Podiobooker. More on the subject of Podiobooks another day, but - my condolences to Tee. As I wrote on Podiobooker, he has been an inspiration and lifted my spirits with his storytelling, and I hope that someone can do the same for him.
I was working when I saw the announcement, but it stuck in my head, and thinking about how fortunate I am to have a healthy wife and son, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about Tee Morris.

Tee is the author of the odd tale of Billibub Baddings. I listened to his book The Case of the Singing Sword (in print at Amazon). The unlikely basis of the story is the dwarf Billibub Baddings, born, raised and fighting in a Tolkien-like universe, who gets sucked into a portal - and is transported to Chicago, 1929, where he becomes a private detective. What could be more obvious?
In this curious blend of genres, we hear of Billibub’s Dashiell Hammet-style private investigator’s office, complete with secretary, gangsters (Al Capone’s in there)  and snappy dialog in the style of Bringing Up Baby, as also imitated by the brilliant Black Jack Justice series… but coupled with Billibub’s decidedly medieval axe-wielding angle. As an indication, the title of the first chapter is Trouble Is a Princess in High Heels.

I leave you with this; if you are not afraid of a little old-school genre blending, I recommend that you listen to this quirky tale of hoodlums, fedoras, beards, booze, guns, high society, spicy women and axe-wielding action.