Archive for November, 2011

Amazon’s Paul Misener testifies before Congress on Equal Collection Legislation

November 30, 2011

Amazon’s Paul Misener testifies before Congress on Equal Collection Legislation

I’ve written extensively before about sales tax and Amazon.

Briefly summing up, some states have passed laws redefining what constitutes a “nexus” in their states. By doing so, they can declare that Amazon is doing business in their states, and can therefore by compelled to collect sales tax at the time of sale, in the same way that a brick and mortar store can be compelled to do that.

These laws have varied from state to state, and Amazon has changed how they did business in some states to stay outside the new definition.

Amazon has also supported a federal sales tax policy…not, to be very clear, a Federal sales tax. A federal sales tax policy would define at a national level what constitutes a nexus. The result would be that internet retailers would collect tax at the time of sale. That’s tax that has already been owed to states…you are usually supposed to report it on your annual state taxes, and it is often called a “use tax” at that point.

Believe it or not, that’s the simple version. ;)

In a

press release 

today, Amazon gives us the text of a statement made by the retailer’s Vice-President Paul Misener in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s fascinating stuff…I highly recommend you read it.

Two of the interesting points are: Misener arguing for a low exemption value; and Misener calling out eBay for their objection to Equal Collection legislation.

The first one is one of the tricky points. Should someone who only sells one ten dollar item on eBay have to collect sales tax?

Well, the answer seems to me to be…sure, if they can do it reasonably. The software is there, and Misener suggests that eBay could do it easily enough for their sellers…and that Amazon would do it for their Marketplace sellers.

I haven’t had a chance to view any testimony yet, and there should be a question and answer session as part of this.

Will Equal Collection legislation pass?

It’s hard to say that any legislation will pass right now.

However, it would greatly benefit states. I’m sure many states have millions of dollars owed to them that isn’t being collected.

Senators represent states…it helps them politically to help their states.

They are, of course, elected by individuals…individuals who may not like it when more sales tax is collected (even if no more sales tax is owed than was before).

I’ll keep my eye on it…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Kindle (Fire) Software Update Version 6.2

November 30, 2011

Kindle (Fire) Software Update Version 6.2 

Kindle Software Update Version 6.2 is now available for the Kindle Fire.

That means, by the way, that we have averaged one update a week so far…I hope they don’t cancel this show after thirteen episodes. ;)

It should happen automatically, but here’s what I did:

I made sure I was connected to wi-fi. I tried updating it by doing a sync, but nothing seemed to happen with the version.

You can check the version by doing

Settings Gear* – More – Device

You are probably on 6.1 right now.

I was going to do it manually by going to the

Kindle Fire Software Update 6.2 page

but then it occurred to me to just shut it down (hold the power button in for a second or so) and restart it.

That did it…when it was coming back on, it went through the process flawlessly.

They don’t tell us exactly what this does, but they do mention some things, like magazines.

I can tell you one thing: it feels much more responsive.

Getting into the Device part to check the version was notably quicker.

I started to check some other things for you.

Ah, this is interesting! Whichever webpage is the active page in the Web tab is displayed on the Carousel…but not all the pages I have open or other ones I have visited! That’s a big plus.

All of my archived books are still on my Carousel.

Okay, I’m going to warn you on this one! When I went to

Settings Gear – More – Help & Feedback

there was a noticeable bright flash when I switched tabs to go to, say, Feedback. It only happened the first time in each session, but it was bright! I have particularly good night vision (I think that’s related to my having some color vision deficiency), so bright lights bother me more than most people. Still, you’ll see it.

I don’t see any other major changes…I’ve just run through all of the main menus.

I’m still finding that the Back button doesn’t always respond, but everything else seems more responsive.

Subjectively, the sound may be a bit louder…I’m not going to swear to that one, though.

Check it out and let me know if you notice anything else.

* Amazon officially calls what I call the Settings Gear “Quick Settings icon”, but I don’t think people will find it if I call it that.

Update: thanks to reader Malcolm Northrup for pointing out that I didn’t say this was the Kindle Fire right at the top of the post. What happened was that I’d used my own title for the article, and then decided I’d better use Amazon’s official name for the update. I didn’t realize, when I copied and pasted, that it didn’t identify the hardware. Thanks, Malcolm!

Update: here’s a brilliant change! When you have the keyboard open, you’ll see a number on the top row of letters. If you “long press” one of those keys (hold your fingertip down for about a second), it will type that number. That saves you pusing the 123!? button…it’s much easier. Pretty cool…but wait, there’s more! ;) If you do that on a letter that has variants, you can long press to choose the variant. For example, let’s say you want to type the Spanish letter eñe…you can just long press the letter “n”. Try it with the letter “o”…you may be surprised. :) Besides the number 9, there are eight variants…just slide your finger along to pick the one you want. I’m impressed!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Kids Place app solves Carousel, purchasing problems

November 28, 2011

Child’s Place app solves Carousel, purchasing problems

I’ve looked for parental control apps for the Kindle Fire before, and haven’t found something that worked.

Today, I found this:

Kids Place – With Child Lock

It may have been there before and I’d missed it…or they may have just made it available for the Fire. It has a release date of October 19, 2011, but you can’t really tell from that.

This free app addresses many concerns people have with the Kindle Fire, and greatly increases its value.

The idea is simple: instead of opening to your homescreen, it opens to a different screen…and just the apps you want to allow are on there. If you want to go somewhere else, you enter a PIN (Personal Identification Number).

Once you launch it, it stays there, unless you choose to exit (and you need to enter the PIN for that as well). That’s even if you shut down the Kindle Fire and restart it.

Boom! Problems solved!

I set it up with just a few apps, to test it out. I had the ability to turn off the wireless…yep, no going to websites, no going to the stores to buy from Amazon.

One cool thing I could do was add the Launcher app. That let me go from the Kid’s Place setting to the regular homescreen (yes, that would show the Carousel). I couldn’t open any unauthorized apps, though, but I could open books and read them (if I allowed the Amazon Kindle app…if not, I blocked that as well).

It’s astonishingly simple and effective.

It’s only a four-digit numeric PIN, so it’s certainly not hacker proof, but it should generally serve the purpose…it even offers to e-mail you the PIN you set so you won’t forget it…that’s a nice touch.

Here are some good uses I see for it:

  • You can hide the launcher, and no one can see your Carousel
  • You can hide apps that may have personal information
  • You can allow just the videos you want, and no streaming
  • You can prevent all purchasing
  • You can prevent web browsing

I haven’t had a chance to test it much, but there seem like a lot of possible configurations.

However, it isn’t the most intuitive program ever.

The most confusing thing was that I went to Select Apps and picked the ones I wanted…but there was no “done” or “accept” button. I tried to go Home, thinking if I left the program it would save my choices…but it didn’t do that. Instead, it bounced me back to the program and said I didn’t have anything selected (although I did). The answer to that one? Pick the ones you want to allow, then use the Back arrow at the bottom of the screen.

Enabling Airplane Mode in the Settings is what turns off the web browser. ..I think I would have called it something clearer, like “Turn Off the Web Browser”. :)

The “Exit” option is only available from the Kid’s Space screen…not from the Settings screen, for example.

Those in no way outweigh the value of this app. It may be have enhanced the value of the Kindle Fire more than anything else in the Amazon appstore.

One caution: I haven’t used it much, so I can’t vouch for the stability (but Amazon has approved it for the Fire, so that means it’s been tested(. I put the Amazon Kindle app in Kid’s Place and it launched once…and then not again. Having the Launcher app in there, though, enabled me to open books.

This is something they probably can’t control at this point, but the ideal thing would be able to put specific books into Kid’s Place, so you could prevent kids from seeing the Carousel in order to read books. Again, that doesn’t overwhelm the positive…it would just make it even better.

This says it’s a Beta version, so it may not be around for long…if you do try it out, feel free to let me know what you think.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Kindle sales quadruple on Black Friday…900 Kindle books on 1-day Cyber Monday sale

November 28, 2011

Kindle sales quadruple on Black Friday…900 Kindle books on 1-day Cyber Monday sale

Amazon announced today in this

Press Release

that

“Black Friday was the best ever for the Kindle family – customers purchased 4X as many Kindle devices as they did last Black Friday – and last year was a great year…”

That’s certainly impressive as Kindles continue to move into the mainstream.

However, it’s also worth noting that there are a lot more Kindles from which to choose…and the Kindle Fire is really a whole new line of hardware.

Last Black Friday, you basically had two models of the Kindle 3 (now called a Kindle Keyboard) and the Kindle DX. There was a two-second Black Friday deal on Kindle 2s.

This year, we have:

That doesn’t mean that they didn’t sell a lot more…I would guess they did. I do think diversifying the reflective Kindles helps, and the introduction of a multi-million seller tablet also drives it up. That’s all to Amazon’s credit…even though the Fire it particular may be an investment for them for future sales.

Congratulations, Amazon!

The Kindle Daily Deal today is actually

900 Kindle books on sale

These aren’t on sale for a dollar or $1.99, but there are good prices here. I’m seeing a recent bestseller (Go the F**k to Sleep…a profane parody of a children’s book that isn’t for everybody, but has been very popular) for $1.49, for example.

I won’t have time today to go through all these for you, so I’ll just throw in a few notable titles:

  • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  • Chorus Skating (a Spellsinger book) by Alan Dean Foster
  • Midnight Never Comes by Jack Higgins
  • The Magic Christian by Terry Southern
  • Six Days of the Condor by James Grady
  • Exodus by Leon Uris
  • Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
  • The Sea Around by Rachel Carson
  • North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent
  • The Boxcar Children (#1 and others) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen

If you spot any others you’d recommend in this group, feel free to comment…again, this sale is today only, and may not apply outside the USA. Always check the price before you 1-click.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Round up #53: follow ups for missing archived items on Fire, typos in my new book…and was there a Black Friday sale on Kindle Fires?

November 28, 2011

Round up #53: follow ups for missing archived items on Fire, typos in my new book…and was there a Black Friday sale on Kindle Fires?

Follow up: missing archived items on the Kindle Fire

I wrote in an

earlier post

about how the Cloud tab for books on my Kindle Fire was not showing all of my archived items, when it had previously.

I tried some things on my own to fix it and to test it. I did a Sync

Settings Gear – Sync

I shut it down

Hold in the power button for a few seconds, choose Shut Down

but those didn’t restore it.

There were two more things I could try: deregistering and reregistering, and resetting the device to factory defaults. I didn’t want to do either of those without checking with Kindle Customer Service first.  I’ve deregistered and reregistered a reflective screen Kindle before without an issue, but I’d heard that downloaded items disappeared on a Kindle Fire when deregistered.

Well, today, I had some time to chat with Kindle Customer Service…and I needed to contact them anyway. My Kindle Fire has a scratch on the screen. It’s hairline, and about the size of a fingernail. It could actually have been a fingernail…my Significant Other tried Fruit Ninja Free (and didn’t like it, by the way). Both my offspring and I noted the sound of fingernails. However, it seems odd that the “Gorilla Glass” would be scratched by a fingernail…and it also seems like there should perhaps have been more scratches.

It’s also possible I scratched in some other way. I’m now using a sleeve that I really like: BoxWave Elite Leather Amazon Kindle Fire Messenger Pouch, Faux Leather Slim Protective Sleeve (Jet Black). It’s quite elegant and seems reasonably protective. I’ve gotten some good comments about it as well. Before I had it, though, I was putting the “naked” Kindle Fire in a pocket with a zipper…it’s possible I scratched it, but seems unlikely…I’m pretty careful.

Anyway, as has been the case before with issues before, Amazon is replacing it. Very simple…they gave me a place to print an address label, and I’ll probably have the new one Wednesday. I’ve never done this before, but I might keep the same name. :)

They could have just finished the conversation there, but the rep, Shivamruth, was very thorough, clear, and helpful.

I’d mentioned the issue with the archived books not showing up on the Cloud tab under Books.

We discussed it some. Then, under instruction, I deregistered and reregistered.

Yes, all downloaded items from the Kindle store were removed by doing that. No register/deregister dance with the Kindle Fire. That’s when people register a Kindle, download books, and then deregister it…with a reflective screen Kindle, you keep the local copies that way. That can be done to “share books”, but it’s also done by parents who don’t want their children to buy books…a deregistered Kindle can’t buy books.

The items I had sideloaded (just documents) were still there.

Deregistering and reregistering fixed the Cloud issue. All of my archived books appeared on the Cloud tab again…and on the Carousel again. I did ask if there was a way to remove archived books from the Carousel…not currently.

One interesting thing: I did not have to reenter my wi-fi network password…when deregistered, it did not forget my network. There’s an argument for resetting to factory defaults if selling the device or giving it away to someone not on the account.

So, the answer on the archived items not showing on the Cloud tab under books: register and deregister.

Settings Gear – More – My Account

Thanks to everybody who gave my feedback on this!

Follow up: typos in my new book

I’ll admit it: I did feel a “rush to publish” with my newest book

Love Your Kindle Fire: The ILMK Guide to Amazon’s Entertablet

I submitted the book to Amazon about five days after the Kindle Fire was released…and it’s the equivalent of about eighty traditional paper pages.

A few typos got through: that did earn me my only four-star review on the book so far.

I got to proof-reading on my own, and one of my readers, Marlene “Daisy” Spector, was kind enough to proof-read the book as well.

Don’t hold Daisy responsible for the current version: I didn’t integrate all of the suggestions…in particular, there were some formatting things that were difficult to fix, and I haven’t. Just minor things. For example , the first bullet in the Table of Contents is wrong on the Fire…but right everywhere else I’ve looked at it. I think I could fix it by removing some code, but I’m reluctant to do that. It’s probably a problem with the way the Silk browser reads the HTML code…I’m hoping that gets fixed by Amazon.

I’m also pleased that Amazon made it easy (if not obvious) for early purchasers to get an updated copy if they want. I contacted them, and they’ll be sending out an e-mail offering you a replacement. You may have gotten those e-mails before for other books.

I’d honestly say the fixes are minor. If you do get the replacement, that will wipe out any annotations you’ve made…highlights, notes, that kind of thing. Up to you. :)

Oh, and the book’s been doing very well! It’s been a #1 bestseller in two categories, and I’m pleased with its performance! Thanks to all of you who have tried it, and especially to those who have written reviews. It’s quite weird: three reviews have disappeared…I don’t know why. I asked one of the reviewers, and that person didn’t remove it. That was the four-star review, but I’d like to have it there…I haven’t asked Amazon about that yet.

Did some people get a Black Friday deal on Kindle Fires?

According to this

Amazon Kindle community thread

some people got a Kindle Fire for $123.38 (as opposed to $199) at Target on Black Friday…and Wal-Mart price-matched it.

This is per the

Gottadeal.com forum

and it shows authentic looking pictures of the price card and the receipt.

On poster on the thread was “shaming” Amazon for this, but my guess is (if it isn’t faked) is that Amazon had nothing to do with it. If it did happen, I’m guessing that store may be in trouble with Amazon…it wouldn’t surprise me if there had been an agreement not to undersell Amazon on the Fire. That can be done, and is done sometimes with electronics. That doesn’t mean that an individual manager at an individual store is going to do what they are supposed to be doing.

If buyers got the deal, that’s fine for them. I just thought you might hear about it and want to see the details. Oh, and Amazon would not be expected to price match that, since it wouldn’t have been an “advertised price”…in my opinion.

Update: Follow up: Mobile 1-Click

I meant to include this one as well. I also asked about Mobile 1-Click…that’s a setting you can turn off when you go to My Account at the Amazon website, and scroll down to Settings, 1-C lick Settings.

Shivamruth confirmed for me: that only affects purchases of physical items. If you turn it off, people can still buy Kindle books through the device. You have seven days to “return” any Kindle store book, so it’s not that big a risk, but I wanted people to be aware of it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Freebie flash! Hippocrene international cookbooks

November 27, 2011

Freebie flash! Hippocrene international cookbooks

As usual, I don’t vouch for these books, and none of them block text-to-speech access. As promotional titles, they may not be free for long. Note: these books are free in the USA: prices in other countries may vary.

Cuisines of the Alps (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)
by Kay Shaw Nelson
published by Hippocrene
size: 1312KB
categories: cooking, food, & wine

Cuisines of the Caucasus Mountains: Recipes, Drinks, and Lore from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia
by Kay Shaw Nelson
published by Hippocrene
size: 2932KB
categories: cooking, food, & wine

The Art of Uzbek Cooking (Hippocrene International Cookbooks)
by Lynn Visson
published by Hippocrene

size: 2303KB

categories: cooking, food, & wine

Polish Heritage Cookery
by Robert Strybel, Maria Strybel
published by Hippocrene
size: 10250KB
categories: cooking, food, & wine

Healthy South Indian Cooking
by Alamelu Vairavan, Patricia Marquardt
published by Hippocrene
size: 1261KB
categories: cooking, food, & wine

The Best of Ukrainian Cuisine (Hippocrene International Cookbook Series)
by Bohdan Zahny
published by Hippocrene
size: 2019KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

All Along the Rhine: Recipes, Wines and Lore from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein and Holland
by Kay Shaw Nelson
published by Hippocrene
size: 1918KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic
by Sheilah Kaurman
published by Hippocrene
size: 770KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

Flavors of Burma: Myanmar : Cuisine and Culture from the Land of Golden Pagodas
by Susan Chan
size: 2240KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

Gypsy Feast: Recipes and Culinary Traditions of the Romany People (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)
by Carol Wilson
published by Hippocrene
size: 2565KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

The Best of Polish Cooking
by Karen West
published by Hippocrene
size: 3346KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

A Taste of Haiti (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)
by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas, Jay H. Moskowitz
published by Hippocrene
size: 3029KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

The Kerala Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections from the Syrian Christians of South India (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)
by Lathika George, Latha George Pottenkulam
size: 4660KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

The Best of Korean Cuisine
by Karen Hulene Bartell
published by Hippocrene
size: 1978KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

Cooking from China’s Fujian Province: One of China’s Eight Great Cuisines
by Jacqueline M. Newman
published by Hippocrene
size: 1512KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

Hungarian Cookbook: Old World Recipes for New World Cooks, Expanded Edition
by Yolanda Nagy Fintor
published by Hippocrene
size: 2486KB
categories: cooking, wine, & food

The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook: Recipes and Lore from Celtic Kitchens
by Kay Shaw Nelson
published by Hippocrene
size: 2817KB
categoriez: cooking, wine, & food

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

You can turn off 1-click purchasing just for the Fire

November 26, 2011

You can turn off 1-click purchasing just for the Fire

Update: hold off on doing this. It may not work as we expect. I may test it…*

A thousand thanks to Pineapple in the Kindle Community forum, who reported in this

Amazon Kindle community thread

that you can turn off 1-click purchasing just for your Kindle Fire!

That’s a huge and important change, and will ameliorate a lot of worries people have had.

What it means is that you can greatly reduce the ability of someone on your account to purchase items through the device. For example, Kindle books can only be bought with 1-click…turn that off, and you can’t buy those.

Naturally, you control this on the Amazon website, where you have to enter a password to make changes.

You can go to

http://www.amazon.com

and click

Your Account

in your top right corner.

Scroll down to

Settings

and click

1-Click Settings

You’ll see that you now have two places to change your 1-click status. The new one is a “Mobile 1-click” setting. Mine specifically says “Kindle Fire” under that. I also have a Samsung Captivate on my account…I’m pretty sure I can use 1-click on that within the Kindle for Android app, and I’m not sure if that will be affected or not.

Anyway, this should make a lot of parents and other legal guardians breathe a bit easier. It reduces the chances that your kid can buy an inappropriate book, for example…most public domain books (not all, of course) are not as explicit as some contemporary books.

You are already required to enter a PIN (Personal Identification Number) when buying videos, and you can set parental controls for in-app purchasing for apps, but this should simplify things.

*Update: I’ve been informed that this only affects purchases of physical items on the Kindle Fire, not e-books. For more details, see this later post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Archived books missing from Fire: is Amazon working on the Carousel?

November 25, 2011

Archived books missing from Fire: is Amazon working on the Carousel?

This is odd, and I”m curious if you are experiencing it as well.

I was blithely going to answer a question in the

Amazon Kindle community

about getting books from your Kindle archives on to your Kindle Fire. I was all ready to write about the difference between “Cloud” and “Device”, and how all the books you’ve bought previously on the account will be available to a new device registered to the account.

Only they weren’t.

When I tapped on “Cloud”, I saw the same books I saw when I tapped on “Device”.

I tried syncing and restarting (well, shutting down and starting again).

No luck.

I tried removing a book from the device (by long pressing it)…it also disappeared from the Cloud tab.

I went to

http://www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle

I sent a book from there to my Fire…once I synced on the Fire, no problem, it was there (it also did get a “New” tag, by the way).

This seems odd to me…many people have complained about the Carousel on the homescreen, saying it was displaying all of their Kindle store books (even thous in archives). I’m sure the Cloud listing used to show me more.

First, a question: is your Cloud tab on your Fire only showing you books you’ve downloaded to the Kindle Fire?

Second, my thought is this might be due to them working on the Carousel. Maybe they are going to add an option to display Cloud (archived) books on the Carousel…or not.

It wouldn’t take much to make the Carousel much friendlier. Giving us a “long press” to remove an item from the Carousel directly from the Carousel would be nice. Letting us hide the Carousel would be good. Letting us lock a Favorites shelf so it didn’t change when we added a new item to Favorites would help.

Collections or bookshelves of some kind would be best.

If you get a chance, let me know if your Kindle Fire is showing the books from your archives on the Cloud tab…thanks!

Update: I’m going to call Kindle Customer Service on this and two other issues. Interesting thing: when I got some freebies, they showed up as they should…in the Cloud tab, not on the Device tab…but the rest of my archives have not. I wonder if it’s the sheer size of my archives (over 2,500 titles)? Does anybody else have over…let’s say 2,048 archived items and have them on the Carousel?

Update: deregistering and registering (as Kindle Customer Service instructed me) again fixed it…and removed all downloaded books from my device. For more details, see this later post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Black Friday special: NOOK Simple Touch for $79

November 25, 2011

Black Friday special: NOOK Simple Touch for $79

Amazon undercut Barnes & Nobles’ NOOK Simple Touch when it introduced what I call the Mindle. Instead of $99, the ad-supported version was just $79.

Now, as a

Black Friday special

you can get the NOOK Simple Touch for $79 as well. That’s only in stores, only on Friday, and your Barnes & Noble membership discount won’t apply.

I’d recommend the Mindle over the NOOK Simple Touch, partially due to the superior customer service policies at Amazon, but I thought I’d let people know. NOOK users are welcome here…and some people use both brands. :)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

In honor of Thanksgiving: an excerpt from The Mysterious Island

November 24, 2011

 In honor of Thanksgiving: an excerpt from The Mysterious Island

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! This is an excerpt from Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (L’Île Mystérieuse) originally published in 1874. I actually associate it most with the Ray Harryhausen version, even though it wasn’t entirely faithful. ;) Why is this in honor of Thanksgiving? One of my strong associations is with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the giant balloons, so I was looking for something with a big balloon in it. Hopefully, nobody has this same experience with the Snoopy balloon…

PART 1—DROPPED FROM THE CLOUDS
Chapter 1

“Are we rising again?” “No. On the contrary.” “Are we descending?” “Worse than that, captain! we are falling!” “For Heaven’s sake heave out the ballast!” “There! the last sack is empty!” “Does the balloon rise?” “No!” “I hear a noise like the dashing of waves. The sea is below the car! It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!” “Overboard with every weight! … everything!”

Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery desert of the Pacific, about four o’clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast, in the middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged without intermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages were terrible in America, Europe, and Asia, covering a distance of eighteen hundred miles, and extending obliquely to the equator from the thirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns were overthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains of water which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, which the published accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveled by waterspouts which destroyed everything they passed over, several thousand people crushed on land or drowned at sea; such were the traces of its fury, left by this devastating tempest. It surpassed in disasters those which so frightfully ravaged Havana and Guadalupe, one on the 25th of October, 1810, the other on the 26th of July, 1825.

But while so many catastrophes were taking place on land and at sea, a drama not less exciting was being enacted in the agitated air.

In fact, a balloon, as a ball might be carried on the summit of a waterspout, had been taken into the circling movement of a column of air and had traversed space at the rate of ninety miles an hour, turning round and round as if seized by some aerial maelstrom.

Beneath the lower point of the balloon swung a car, containing five passengers, scarcely visible in the midst of the thick vapor mingled with spray which hung over the surface of the ocean.

Whence, it may be asked, had come that plaything of the tempest? From what part of the world did it rise? It surely could not have started during the storm. But the storm had raged five days already, and the first symptoms were manifested on the 18th. It cannot be doubted that the balloon came from a great distance, for it could not have traveled less than two thousand miles in twenty-four hours.

At any rate the passengers, destitute of all marks for their guidance, could not have possessed the means of reckoning the route traversed since their departure. It was a remarkable fact that, although in the very midst of the furious tempest, they did not suffer from it. They were thrown about and whirled round and round without feeling the rotation in the slightest degree, or being sensible that they were removed from a horizontal position.

Their eyes could not pierce through the thick mist which had gathered beneath the car. Dark vapor was all around them. Such was the density of the atmosphere that they could not be certain whether it was day or night. No reflection of light, no sound from inhabited land, no roaring of the ocean could have reached them, through the obscurity, while suspended in those elevated zones. Their rapid descent alone had informed them of the dangers which they ran from the waves. However, the balloon, lightened of heavy articles, such as ammunition, arms, and provisions, had risen into the higher layers of the atmosphere, to a height of 4,500 feet. The voyagers, after having discovered that the sea extended beneath them, and thinking the dangers above less dreadful than those below, did not hesitate to throw overboard even their most useful articles, while they endeavored to lose no more of that fluid, the life of their enterprise, which sustained them above the abyss.

The night passed in the midst of alarms which would have been death to less energetic souls. Again the day appeared and with it the tempest began to moderate. From the beginning of that day, the 24th of March, it showed symptoms of abating. At dawn, some of the lighter clouds had risen into the more lofty regions of the air. In a few hours the wind had changed from a hurricane to a fresh breeze, that is to say, the rate of the transit of the atmospheric layers was diminished by half. It was still what sailors call “a close-reefed topsail breeze,” but the commotion in the elements had none the less considerably diminished.

Towards eleven o’clock, the lower region of the air was sensibly clearer. The atmosphere threw off that chilly dampness which is felt after the passage of a great meteor. The storm did not seem to have gone farther to the west. It appeared to have exhausted itself. Could it have passed away in electric sheets, as is sometimes the case with regard to the typhoons of the Indian Ocean?

But at the same time, it was also evident that the balloon was again slowly descending with a regular movement. It appeared as if it were, little by little, collapsing, and that its case was lengthening and extending, passing from a spherical to an oval form. Towards midday the balloon was hovering above the sea at a height of only 2,000 feet. It contained 50,000 cubic feet of gas, and, thanks to its capacity, it could maintain itself a long time in the air, although it should reach a great altitude or might be thrown into a horizontal position.

Perceiving their danger, the passengers cast away the last articles which still weighed down the car, the few provisions they had kept, everything, even to their pocket-knives, and one of them, having hoisted himself on to the circles which united the cords of the net, tried to secure more firmly the lower point of the balloon.

It was, however, evident to the voyagers that the gas was failing, and that the balloon could no longer be sustained in the higher regions. They must infallibly perish!

There was not a continent, nor even an island, visible beneath them. The watery expanse did not present a single speck of land, not a solid surface upon which their anchor could hold.

It was the open sea, whose waves were still dashing with tremendous violence! It was the ocean, without any visible limits, even for those whose gaze, from their commanding position, extended over a radius of forty miles. The vast liquid plain, lashed without mercy by the storm, appeared as if covered with herds of furious chargers, whose white and disheveled crests were streaming in the wind. No land was in sight, not a solitary ship could be seen. It was necessary at any cost to arrest their downward course, and to prevent the balloon from being engulfed in the waves. The voyagers directed all their energies to this urgent work. But, notwithstanding their efforts, the balloon still fell, and at the same time shifted with the greatest rapidity, following the direction of the wind, that is to say, from the northeast to the southwest.

Frightful indeed was the situation of these unfortunate men. They were evidently no longer masters of the machine. All their attempts were useless. The case of the balloon collapsed more and more. The gas escaped without any possibility of retaining it. Their descent was visibly accelerated, and soon after midday the car hung within 600 feet of the ocean.

It was impossible to prevent the escape of gas, which rushed through a large rent in the silk. By lightening the car of all the articles which it contained, the passengers had been able to prolong their suspension in the air for a few hours. But the inevitable catastrophe could only be retarded, and if land did not appear before night, voyagers, car, and balloon must to a certainty vanish beneath the waves.

They now resorted to the only remaining expedient. They were truly dauntless men, who knew how to look death in the face. Not a single murmur escaped from their lips. They were determined to struggle to the last minute, to do anything to retard their fall. The car was only a sort of willow basket, unable to float, and there was not the slightest possibility of maintaining it on the surface of the sea.

Two more hours passed and the balloon was scarcely 400 feet above the water.

At that moment a loud voice, the voice of a man whose heart was inaccessible to fear, was heard. To this voice responded others not less determined. “Is everything thrown out?” “No, here are still 2,000 dollars in gold.” A heavy bag immediately plunged into the sea. “Does the balloon rise?” “A little, but it will not be long before it falls again.” “What still remains to be thrown out?” “Nothing.” “Yes! the car!” “Let us catch hold of the net, and into the sea with the car.”

This was, in fact, the last and only mode of lightening the balloon. The ropes which held the car were cut, and the balloon, after its fall, mounted 2,000 feet. The five voyagers had hoisted themselves into the net, and clung to the meshes, gazing at the abyss.

The delicate sensibility of balloons is well known. It is sufficient to throw out the lightest article to produce a difference in its vertical position. The apparatus in the air is like a balance of mathematical precision. It can be thus easily understood that when it is lightened of any considerable weight its movement will be impetuous and sudden. So it happened on this occasion. But after being suspended for an instant aloft, the balloon began to redescend, the gas escaping by the rent which it was impossible to repair.

The men had done all that men could do. No human efforts could save them now.

They must trust to the mercy of Him who rules the elements.

At four o’clock the balloon was only 500 feet above the surface of the water.

A loud barking was heard. A dog accompanied the voyagers, and was held pressed close to his master in the meshes of the net.

“Top has seen something,” cried one of the men. Then immediately a loud voice shouted,—

“Land! land!” The balloon, which the wind still drove towards the southwest, had since daybreak gone a considerable distance, which might be reckoned by hundreds of miles, and a tolerably high land had, in fact, appeared in that direction. But this land was still thirty miles off. It would not take less than an hour to get to it, and then there was the chance of falling to leeward.

An hour! Might not the balloon before that be emptied of all the fluid it yet retained?

Such was the terrible question! The voyagers could distinctly see that solid spot which they must reach at any cost. They were ignorant of what it was, whether an island or a continent, for they did not know to what part of the world the hurricane had driven them. But they must reach this land, whether inhabited or desolate, whether hospitable or not.

It was evident that the balloon could no longer support itself! Several times already had the crests of the enormous billows licked the bottom of the net, making it still heavier, and the balloon only half rose, like a bird with a wounded wing. Half an hour later the land was not more than a mile off, but the balloon, exhausted, flabby, hanging in great folds, had gas in its upper part alone. The voyagers, clinging to the net, were still too heavy for it, and soon, half plunged into the sea, they were beaten by the furious waves. The balloon-case bulged out again, and the wind, taking it, drove it along like a vessel. Might it not possibly thus reach the land?

But, when only two fathoms off, terrible cries resounded from four pairs of lungs at once. The balloon, which had appeared as if it would never again rise, suddenly made an unexpected bound, after having been struck by a tremendous sea. As if it had been at that instant relieved of a new part of its weight, it mounted to a height of 1,500 feet, and here it met a current of wind, which instead of taking it directly to the coast, carried it in a nearly parallel direction.

At last, two minutes later, it reproached obliquely, and finally fell on a sandy beach, out of the reach of the waves.

The voyagers, aiding each other, managed to disengage themselves from the meshes of the net. The balloon, relieved of their weight, was taken by the wind, and like a wounded bird which revives for an instant, disappeared into space.

But the car had contained five passengers, with a dog, and the balloon only left four on the shore.

The missing person had evidently been swept off by the sea, which had just struck the net, and it was owing to this circumstance that the lightened balloon rose the last time, and then soon after reached the land. Scarcely had the four castaways set foot on firm ground, than they all, thinking of the absent one, simultaneously exclaimed, “Perhaps he will try to swim to land! Let us save him! let us save him!”

===

End excerpt

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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