Saturday, October 1, 2011

Denial is a river in Egypt! Not in France!

I knew that big parts of the publishing industry have been or still are in Big Denial about e-publishing, but this is astounding: according to Kindle Chronicles, French publishers until now have been virtually completely opposed to e-publishing, almost nothing has come out as ebooks. But now one of the biggest ones have announced that they've changed course, they are going Kindle in a big way.
It really surprises me, normally the French are never opposed to new things, especially not American ones!

Of course it is probably the same situation in Denmark, I don't think there are a lot of Danish ebooks yet. But in their defence, they have much more of a chicken/egg problem: unlike French speakers, there are only five million Danes in the world, so why buy a Kindle if you can't get Danish ebooks, and why publish Danish ebooks if the Danes don't have Kindles!
... Or other ereaders. My local electronics store here in England has a couple of European ereader devices which I almost never hear about online, but which apparently are about as big in Europe as the Kindle, or at least way bigger than they are outside Europe. But probably not very big, the Babel divide is a big influence on this one.

Why is text important?

The title of this blog and the fact that I use my iPad 70% for reading, tells you how important I consider books, text, and reading.

But it's hard to say why. Music and films are so much more intuitive. As soon as a baby can walk, they'll dance. (I remember walking past a kindergarten and seeing inside, all the toddlers like one rocking out to the Danish world-hit Barbie Girl! It was cool.)

And nothing can replicate (hah!) the visual splendor of the film Bladerunner. But then the book it's ostensibly based on, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, has something that nothing else can replicate too (apart from the sheep).

Generally the most important thoughts which have been transferred to me, those which have changed my life, have been from books. Perhaps because there's no music or pictures to occupy certain mental functions, other mental functions can become that much greater? Abstract thought, the ability to make the greater connections about life?

I'm not sure. But I'm sure, and the very existence of this blog (which I started due to low interest my tech posts from the readers of my main blog) shows that, reading is "tonnes" important, even in the age of instant video creation and transmission, and therefore e-reading technology is doubly important, and that this will become more evident over the next couple of decades. I just feels it in me bones.

Update: Will said:

Reading is conceptual; watching video is sensual.
In classical philosophy, the mind is divided into the sense and the intellect. The one deals with sensory input, perceptions, and the images that result from them, and also the images we assemble for ourselves. The latter deals with abstract concepts, which are tied to images but are distinct from them. (You can't think about triangles as a concept without imagining a triangle, but no specific triangle you can imagine perfectly captures what we mean by the concept of triangularity.)
Reading deals with concepts. Often it moves from concepts to images, but not always. Movies and TV are primarily sensual. They suggest concepts, but do not require them. And so in the order of meaning the written word can be much more focussed, more precise, more crystalline than any movie could possibly be.
In short, in movies the images are precise and the meaning is fuzzy; in writing the concepts are precise and the images are fuzzy.

Dave said:
Reading also gives me the chance to ponder. To question. To try out, What if? I can reread a passage that doesn't make immediate sense, over and over. Try that with a movie or sound bite.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Knowledge navigator, 1987

For some reason I had never seen this very interesting Apple promo video from 1987.
It seems this kind of AI (artificial intelligence) is still many years away, sadly. I'm sure that from a mid-eighties perspective, 25 years probably seemed quite enough to accomplish it.

But then I heard a comment from a scientist, that when somebody was talking about some really futuristic technology still in an embryonic stage, they usually predicted it would be in use in about twenty years. I guess to a normal busy contemporary human mind, twenty years is on the outskirts of the time horizon we can deal with. Heck, five years for many tasks and people.

Fire articles (updated)

Andy Ihnatko article on Kindle Fire etc. Very good overview and commentary, like expected from Andy.

Another predictably very good article is on TidBITS.

More articles being collected here.

I said it, and everybody says it:
After these new Kindles (fourth generation and the Fire), starting at $79, everybody in the tablet market except Apple is FOKKED. Totally boffed.  They can't even approach these prices, and they don't have Amazon's stores and their customers. If I had my nuts on the block at RIM for example, I'd blow my brains out now, or go open a health food store.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"iPhone Nano"?

Rumors are heaping up that Apple may introduce, in early October, a smaller, simpler, and much cheaper iPhone, along, one assumes, with a refreshed full-featured one.

I think that would be a great move. For me, personally and emotionally, I don't see how one can live without an iPhone, though strangely I only felt that way after the iPhone 4 came out (to be honest I think the look of the thing was a big factor for me. And the great camera. Uh, and screen.). But people I know who doesn't have one mostly say "it's way too expensive". So if Apple really could come out with a model which has the bulk of the capability, but is maybe $200 instead of $600, that should be a hit. Especially the current wintry economic climate, where big numbers of middle-class households are really squeezed.

It'll be interesting to see what features they could omit on such a model to reduce cost, nothing really leaps to mind. But if Amazon can sell a 7-inch Android tablet for $200, it should be possible.

The Amazon Publishing controversy

An article I just wrote about Amazon and publishing. (This was one of those that could have gone either way, appearing either on this blog or my mainstream one.)

eReader cover by Christian Marie

As her designs may hint, Christian Marie is a woman despite the first name. She makes some nice bags and covers, and I fell for the colors on one of these Kindle covers.
I got it today and I think it's very good. It has a good balance between soft and protective, it is easy to hold when folded back over for reading, and it looks good.
It weighs just 90 grams (3.2 ounces).
It was only $33, almost too cheap.
She states: "I'm taking custom orders. If you want one of my designs in another color, have a design you want me to create, or have a fabric in mind, just let me know."

(Click for big pics.)
It easily holds the first gen Samsung Galaxy tab, even though that is thicker than the Kindle.

Pretty, eh? Sure, I'm a man, but I'm an artist first, dammit!      :-)
And it reminds me of a favorite painting, Sunflowers by van Gogh, the one with the mint background like this.

She provides a Velcro holding mechanism, one half sewn into the cover.
Velcro is insanely strong, though, I think this strip could hold up a grown person, for real. So I used two smaller strips on the Kindle instead. (And I had black strips, looks better on the graphite Kindle if you take it out of the cover.)

See, holds it fine. I can even shake it vigorously, and the gadgets stays put.


Easy to use when reading, and it light-weight, much lighter than Amazons (admittedly gorgeous) leather covers (which also cost more) .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Kindle "Fire" is released

Not two, not three, but four new Kindle models from Amazon today!

And such lovely prices! From a non-touchscreen model at only $79, to a full seven-inch color model ("Fire") at only $200! That's aggressive business, folks!

... Lame, though: the UK price for the basic model is £89, that's $140! Sixty dollars more than the US price. Oh my gawd. (That must be an ad-free version at least.)
Also, they don't even sell the Touch models in UK yet. I wonder why, since it's the same content, unlike the Fire, which also gets video etc.

The small one is the only one on show on Amazon UK... and yes, like suspected, they won't even ship one of the others from America. Heck and Durnation. I wonder how long it'll take before The World can get a color Kindle?
I could have one shipped on a via, but I'll bet anything it's useless over here, at least as far as buying Amazon content goes. Once the UK Amazon ebook store opened in 2010, I was no longer able to buy ebooks on the US store.
I wonder if, like Barnes And Noble, they will check your position not only buy your account info (credit card), but also by IP? So even US customers can't buy if they are outside the US?

I emailed Kindle support, and they answered:
"Kindle Fire is designed presently for US and will have all the features working in US and for the residents of US. The Kindle Fire if out of US will work like any other normal Kindle."

Since the "littlest Kindle" (smaller than Kindle 3) has no touch-screen nor any keyboard, I  guess things like Search are out. [Update: it has an on-screen keyboard which can be used with the five-way controller. Better than nothing. Also they still sell models with keyboards for a higher price.]
As as one might guess, the 80-bucks price only goes for the "special offers" model, meaning it shows ads on the screen saver. I guess if I were pressed, I could live with the ads (there are none in the books themselves I'm sure), and I never liked the Kindle keyboard and quite rarely use it, so...
I must say the small size (the K3 was already small) and the light weight, 170 grams, appeal to me, it's a real pocket model.

The Kindle Touch looks great, but sadly it only uses the "graystoke" (my derogatory term) screen used in earlier models, the screen which I dislike due to the dull gray background. I had really hoped (but not very optimistically) for some kind of non-backlit display which managed a better contrast range.
The Kindle Fire is exactly as I'd imagined it: a low-end, but still pretty capable Android 7-inch tablet, with the Android interface hidden away behind a slick Amazon media store interface, and capable of running Android apps, but only those from the Amazon app store. (Unless it gets hacked, which it probably will.) From a tablet viewpoint, I don't see any great reason to get this, apart from the very good price, but from a Kindle viewpoint, it's a very interesting step up.

As I'd predicted, the Kindle Fire is wifi only, no 3G. It stands to reason they can't deliver video for free to millions of devices over the cell phone net! They have to pay the cell phone providers per megabyte, and even just for books it's not a trivial expense.

By the way, as one might also have predicted, Amazon clearly wants this to be seen as a "ereader plus" rather than an iPad competitor. And that's surely wise, given the restrictions of the price area they want to be in. And also given that so far iPad competitors are all dead on arrival pretty much.

The UK site states that the Kindle 3 is/was the product they sell which has the most five-star reviews. Considering the enormous number of products sold on Amazon, one must admit that's quite a statement!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Callet case

The Callet iPhone case, with versions for iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4, holds phones securely while providing built-in slots suitable for cash, credit cards, hotel keys and driver’s license.

Just to make sure that if you lose your phone you are completely f***ed. It really ought to hold your passport too.       :-)

The Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books

Have you heard of The Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books? You need never complain of lack of reading material again.
Just download that book-index-link file, and put it on your Kindle (or other ereader, there's a Kindle/mobi version and a ePub version). When you open it, click on the link of any book which interests you, and it downloads to your ereader automatically and near-instantly from Project Gutenberg! (As you may know, that is a big collection of free books which are out of copyright, collected and converted to ebooks by volunteers.)
You can find the file directly on the Kindle just by googling it in the Kindle's "experimental browser".

The Magic Catalogue seems to have no organization whatsoever, beyond perhaps very popular books being first (Mark Twain and E Rice Burroughs are early). You're supposed to use search, or to just grab whatever hits your fancy.

By the way, on my Kindle 3, I have an odd bug: on the top line on a Catalogue page, I can't click it, instead I get a line cursor to make highlights with or select a word. Does anybody know how to make it into a hand cursor for clicking links?
(If necessary it can be solved by opening the Catalogue in the Kindle app on a PC or Mac, downloading and transferring to the Kindle by USB.) (Though oddly, downloading does not seem to work on my iPad's Kindle app.)

For the iPad, the ePub version seems to work nicely in the iBooks app.

... Holy mama, there's a lifetime's worth of classics reading there! All for the grabbing. What a brave new world.

Newest Amazon rumors

[Thanks to KindleWorld]

The newest rumors about Amazon's Wednesday announcements claim that not only will they announce a $200 tablet, which would be huge in itself, but also two new e-ink models, one priced at $100.
Will they really announce that much at once? That would be a lot to digest for everybody.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Make wiki articles into an ebook

eReadUps is a useful service. You do a quick search, and it find wikipedia articles which are related. You select those of interest to you, and it collects and formats them into a nice ebook in iPub or Mobi, including functioning internal links.
This is much more readable than the Wikipedia web site, which suffers from too long lines and too small text. And to have it collected for a book for your Kindle or iPad or whatnot is very handy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Art books in ebooks

The more I think about it, the more I believe that future high-tech, relatively low-weight super-sized tablets could mean a renaissance in art books. As it is now, the art book market is virtually non-existent, because printing has become so durn expensive that nobody can afford to buy them or publish them. But publishing and distribution of art books in electronic format will be super-cheap of course, just like regular ebooks.

The tablets will be less cheap, of course, but only in the beginning. And art just looks so great on a really good color screen, due to the much higher dynamic range etc.

I was just thinking about the classic Frank Miller "comic" books Elektra Assassin and Elektra Lives Again. I would like to look at them now, they had some wonderful art by Miller himself and by Bill Sienkiewicz. I have them somewhere, but lord knows where. I'm not even sure if they're on one of my numerous book shelves around this place, or if they're in a box stored away. If I had them in a super-sized ebook reader, it would be a matter of a few seconds with a search field to call them forth.

... I'm trying again to read comics on the iPad, but it's only *almost* big enough. To read it comfortably, you have keep zooming and navigate around on the page, it's a mess. But if the screen was just 50% bigger and the resolution 50% higher, a full page could be read easily all at once.
... This goes for typical American comics. For larger pages, like most European comic "albums", I'd say the screen should be 100% bigger.

Get Instapaper articles read aloud

Discovery: the app InstaFetch Pro for Android can read aloud Instapaper articles for me. Very cool. (The free Lite version won't. I think that's fair, good choice for a premium feature. And the Pro is only three bucks.) It is an off-brand app, the author of Instapaper does not make an Android Instapaper app. Whether that's a time issue or a taste issue I dunno.

On iPad, I don't think the system, yet anyway, allows apps to read aloud text, except if it is copied/pasted into them. Don't know why, maybe they are afraid of copyright conflicts. (When Amazon made the Kindle able to read aloud, they had to give publishers the right to disable this feature for their books, due to fears that this might undercut the audiobooks market.)

I can get something similar on the iPad by using VoiceReaderWeb app. But the interface is a bit unreliable and clunky on that app, yet. (And unlike the iPhone version, it currently won't allow me to log into Instapaper, I'm pursuing support for that bug.)

Wait: I may be wrong, if this app is allowed to read text aloud, it seems the system does allow it. So what I'm wondering, why is this the only app I've heard of which will do it? An ebook reader app which would read aloud would be gold. Mmmm, unfortunately an independant app wouldn't be able to open the encrypted (DRM'ed) Kindle or iBooks books. (Again, there is such an app for Android, and yes, it won't read encrypted books, which is the bulk of the interesting ones IMHO, since only very few publishers dare put out open books.)

Amazon ought to make the Kindle app read aloud, like the Kindle device can. What might be the reason they haven't? Maybe because on an Android device, one could save or record the reading, but not on a Kindle device, so the copyright conflicts would be bigger?

I wonder about these things. No wonder I can't sleep!

PS: The sleep thing was just a joke, friends who read this need not worry!       :-)