Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Books on my Kindles #2 (part 2)

August 25, 2014

Books on my Kindles #2 (part 2)

This is a continuation of a recent post

Books on my Kindles #2 (part 1)

in which I list and talk about the books I currently have downloaded to my Kindles. For more information on this, see that first post linked above.

Wild and Untamed Thing: Richard O’Brien – the LOST interview (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping)
by Phil South
5 stars out of 5, 1 customer review
borrowed through Kindle Unlimited
not yet started

It’s been about forty (!) years since The Rocky Horror Picture Show was first released in the USA. When I first saw it, there was just a handful of people in the audience, and the whole audience immersion part of it hadn’t happened yet. I’d had it recommended to me by someone who knew my fondness for the Universal Horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s (and to which it pays homage). It was fascinating to see the development of the “cult” over the years, as I went back to see it many times. It went from people spontaneously shouting at the screen, to ritualized mass repetition of the same audience-spoken lines…often with the original meaning diluted. My Significant Other, by the way, had never seen it when we met…and in fact, jokingly suggested that as an epitaph: “Here lies — — who never saw Rocky Horror”. ;) When I was looking to get to the maximum ten simultaneous borrows for

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

so I could test something, I happened to stumble across this one. It made sense: it’s a transcription of an interview with the creator (and one of the stars) of Rocky Horror, first as a stage show, then on-screen. I look forward to reading it.

This is a case where the publisher will make a lot more money because I borrowed it through KU than if I had bought it, since it is priced at $0.99. The publisher (which could be just the author) would get about $0.35 if I bought it…and while we don’t have the exact figure yet (it’s based on a pool of money which is divided dependent on the number of borrows there are), it is likely to be upwards of $2.

Flying Saucer to the Center of Your Mind: Selected Writings of John A. Keel (at AmazonSmile*)
by John A. Keel (edited by Andrew Colvin…no relation, and not spelled the same) ;)
4.5 stars, eleven reviews
borrowed through Kindle Unlimited
not yet started

Ah, John Keel…it’s a bit hard to describe this writer, and how big the influence of Keel’s books has been (not just on me, but on many people). Keel was the clear inspiration for Carl Kolchak on The Night Stalker, and of Alva Keel in the lamentably short-lived Miracles TV series (at AmazonSmile*). Keel brings this odd synergy of ordinariness in the midst of “high strangeness”. Just as in the Darren McGavin performance, Keel comes across as no superhero, or Sherlock Holmesian genius, yet encounters Mothman and the Men-in-Black (and popularized both). Keel’s greatest book (which became a New York Times bestseller) The Mothman Prophecies (at AmazonSmile*), and several others, are available in the Kindle store…but the classics aren’t available through Kindle Unlimited. This book collects articles by Keel: I suspect I will have read some of them, however, many of the magazines which would have carried Keel were not widely available (even to someone like me who collected a lot of “Forteana”). Thanks, e-books!

THE ROAD TO LOCH NESS (The Kodiak Books) (at AmazonSmile*)
by Lee Murphy
5 stars out of 5, three customer reviews
not yet started

While this book is available through Kindle Unlimited, I got it when it was recently free (and I flipped that information into the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard, so I’m guessing some of my readers did as well). Murphy writes a series of novels involving cryptids (reported animals not recognized by science, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster), starring George Kodiak. I’ve read one of them…not burning to read another one, but I probably will eventually. :)

Batman Eternal (2014- ) #1 (at AmazonSmile*)
by Scott Snyder, James Tunion IV, Ray Fawkes, John Layman, Tim Seeley, Jason Fabok
4.1 stars, 68 customer reviews
gotten as a freebie

I don’t read many comics nowadays, although I used to read them a lot. I had told you about this freebie when San Diego Comic Con was starting this year, so I assume some of you got it as well.

Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less (at AmazonSmile*)
by S.J. Scott
3.9 stars, 212 customer reviews
borrowed through Kindle Unlimited

This is one of those books I borrowed to be reading something that ties into work (I actually report that regularly to my boss, as part of “personal/professional development”). It’s not bad: very bite size, and the structure of how to build habits is more significant than the habits themselves…which is important.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (the one I have isn’t available any more, so no linking)
by Lewis Carroll
4.2 stars, 1672 reviews
gotten as a freebie
51% right now, but I’ve finished it

I keep this one on my Kindles to demo stuff for people. It’s in the public domain, so there aren’t any copyright concerns (if you used text-to-speech in a public setting with a book under copyright protection, for example, you could be infringing on the public performance right). Since I’m not really reading it currently, I don’t care if they leave it in a different place in the book, so it works well to just let somebody play with it. :)

The Rise of the Humans: How to outsmart the digital deluge (at AmazonSmile*)
by Dave Coplin
2.7 stars, 3 customer reviews
not yet started
gotten as a freebie

This is another one I got to read as a “work book”. Haven’t started it yet. The low ratings aren’t encouraging me, but I’ll likely try it eventually.

To be continued…

Bonus deal

My apologies that this is so late: I know some of you may miss it. On the other hand, that’s always true, since I have readers around the world…even if the deal is good in their countries (which is often not the case), the timezones would cause problems as to when the deal was available.

One of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is five Sookie Stackhouse novels (including the first one) for $1.99 each. You can buy as many as you want of the five, paying $1.99 for each one. This is clearly a tie-in to the finale of the True Blood series, which is based on these books (but the story lines really diverged).

I would have gotten it out sooner, but my Significant Other is an Insurance Claims Manager, and had to go into the office to deal with the earthquake in Napa, which through off the timing. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area (although not that near Napa), and really felt it this morning, but there wasn’t any damage here.

Hopefully, some of you can take advantage of this.

These books are not currently available through Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.


Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Books on my Kindles #2 (part 1)

August 22, 2014

Books on my Kindles #2

Books on my Kindles is a series of posts where I list what books I currently have on my devices.

This listing is quite a bit different from the last one.

One reason for that is

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I normally only keep about ten Kindle store books on any of my devices at a time. I like to keep my devices lean if I can: I do think they run better. So, even though I could hypothetically have over 5,000 e-books on my

Kindle Fire HDX (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

for example, I normally don’t carry more than I need with me (and being an inveterate book lover who reads multiple books at a time, “need” means ten or so). :)

I was testing something with KU, though, and needed to get to the limit…so I borrowed ten books. I didn’t have to download them all to my Fire, but I think I did.

The other big thing, as I mentioned last time, is that this is kind of hard for me to do. I know people judge people by what they read…both in good ways and in bad. This particular grouping (I did not manipulate them before writing the post) leans pretty heavily in the geeky direction. I am a proud geek, but I also mention on here that I’m an eclectic reader. This grouping won’t look much like that: it seems like much of a muchness, as I glance at it at first. Still, as a bit of a random snapshot, I’ll go with what’s here. There are too many to really list in one post, so I’ll take a few to go through them.

Not counting the dictionaries that come with the device, magazines, items filed under Docs rather than Books, here are the first of the 37 Kindle store titles in descending order of most recent (most recent first):

The City on the Edge of Forever (at AmazonSmile*)
by Harlan Ellison
borrowed through Kindle Unlimited
47% complete

I borrowed this one Wednesday morning, because a couple of my readers (Allie D., jjhitt) and I have been talking about Harlan Ellison after I recently listed a Kindle Daily Deal with Hugo Award winning and nominated books.

There’s a lot of controversy over Ellison’s script (and pre-scripts) for The City on the Edge of Forever, which became an episode of the original Star Trek…and cited by various sources as one of the best.

As regular readers know, I’m not fond of vituperation, and Ellison certainly isn’t hesitant about it.

Ellison’s version of the events does sound…plausible, for the most part, with appropriate details. The way the author describes it and characterizes other people does make me less sympathetic, though.

One interesting point: Ellison (and other sources which can be seen) quote Gene Roddenberry as saying, “He had my Scotty selling drugs…” The script and treatments are in the book, and that’s not it.

However, Ellison also says, “Geezus bleeding Kee-rist on a crutch! Scotty doesn’t even appear in the g*ddam script!” (I added the asterisk, even though the author left out the “n”).

Perhaps not in the script, but in the first version in the book, there are a few references to the “SCOTTISH ENGINEERING OFFICER”, who participates in a court martial with Kirk, Spock, and “THE MEDIC”.

That isn’t in one of the actual script versions, and it isn’t Scotty by name…and, most importantly, that’s not “selling drugs”, but I think it’s not unreasonable for someone to think Scotty was in Ellison’s story based on that.

At this point in reading it, I’d say that Ellison wrote well, and not inexpertly for the medium…but the feel is certainly not Star Trek (it lacks the optimism about the future), and the characterizations aren’t on target (although they improve in successive versions which are in the book).

Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change your Life (at AmazonSmile*)
by Michael Merzenich
borrowed through Kindle Unlimited
6% complete

This one was recommended to me by a physical therapist (who wasn’t treating me…I was training the PT) who thought it might be useful for me. The main point is the idea that the brain can be changed…I’m not far enough into it to judge it well, yet. I like to always be reading something that can relate to my day job, and that’s the one right now…

These are the Voyages – TOS: Season Two (at AmazonSmile*)
by Marc Cushman with Susan Osborn
4% done
borrowed from Kindle Unlimited

I really enjoyed the first one of these! At times, it was a day by day “biography” of the original Star Trek (which is where I got the “other side” view of The City on the Edge of Forever), and quite well done. Again, not really far enough into this one to judge, but I’m enjoying it so far.

These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One ( Season One Book 1) (at AmazonSmile*)
by Marc Cushman
100% done

I just haven’t deleted this one yet, because I still want to write up a review at my Goodreads account:

I’ve been doing an okay job of keeping up with that, but things have been super busy lately. I’ll catch up. :)

Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond (at AmazonSmile*)
by Hans Holzer
50% done

I really like this book! I’ve always enjoyed Holzer, and have suggested elsewhere someone could do a good TV series based on the original “ghost hunter”. This is kind of an emergency book for me…I go to it from time to time between other books, and maybe on a long drive. I always enjoy it.

The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins (at AmazonSmile*)
by Phil Cousineau
100% done

Another one I just need to review. I was disappointed in this one. I love words, and books about words. I just didn’t find it that engaging. It was also weird to read this: “…it’s hard not to hear the echo of Sly and the Family Stone’s funkadelic song ‘Play that funky music right, boy!…'” Um…I don’t think that’s quite the right lyric, which then makes me doubt the scholarship of the rest of the book. It’s also not the right band, from what I know, but I haven’t checked to see if there was a “cover” by Sly. By the way, do you know why they are called “cover” versions? Originally, it was because radio stations and certainly stores didn’t want to play music by African American artists. So, the songs would be re-recorded by Caucasian American artists…putting a more “marketable” face literally on the cover of the record. It always surprises me a bit that many people don’t seem to know that nowadays, and blithely use the term “cover”. It has changed over time, though, and I can accept that it has a different meaning now.

That’s enough for part 1!

Not all of the books will get this much coverage (and I wrote the big introduction in this post), so I think I can do this in…two to three more posts, most likely.

What do you think? Any comments on these books? Do you enjoy somebody being caustic? I can’t deny having liked Simon Cowell. ;) Do you want to just list the books on your Kindle (or, say, ten of them)? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

The Scribd reading experience

February 22, 2014

The Scribd reading experience

I recently wrote about Scribd now having a

Kindle Fire (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

app for their “all you can read” for $8.99 a month subser (subscription service).

I’m in the midst of the free trial (and have almost finished a book on it), and I thought I’d give you some feedback on how it is as a reader.

My general impression is that it is a good, bare bones reader.

It’s interesting to me how I am missing some things which I never had with a p-book (paperbook), though, and which I do use when reading in the Kindle application on my Fire or on one of our non-Fire readers.

Especially noticeable to me are the lack of:

  • Text-to-speech. At this point, that by itself will keep me from renewing. While I have a philosophical objection to publishers blocking text-to-speech, I don’t think it’s necessary for every device or app to have it. It is impractical for me not to have it, though. I use it often in the car, and I almost feel like I only have half the book without it
  • Dictionary look-up. I don’t use that all that often, but there is no kind of look-up (web or otherwise) that I can see
  • Highlighting. I’ve held my finger on the screen several times not thinking about it, wanting to highlight a passage. That might be because it was an interesting quotation, or because there was a minor error (this book is well proof-read) about which I might want to notify the publisher
  • Bookmarking
  • Notes

You have the text on the “page”…that’s about it.

Even “long pressing” a picture didn’t seem to do anything…I don’t think it has a zoom function.

On the good side, there are controls over the appearance of that text, and navigation controls.

I think my favorite feature is one that the Kindle doesn’t have: “pages left in chapter”. Rather than pages, that’s actually a reference to the number of screens that are left…and if I change the text size, the number adjusts. Interestingly, that’s the most useful measure I’ve found…the amount of time I have left in a chapter just doesn’t seem to be very accurate. I often leave my Kindle open on a screen while I do things, and I think that might be throwing it off.

Speaking of increasing the text size, you do get some good controls there. Tapping in the middle of the page invokes some controls.

One looks like a book, and brings up the Table of Contents (in at least the book I am reading now, you can use it for navigation).

In your bottom right, there is an Aa button, similar to Amazon. Tapping that, I can increase or decrease the text size (there appear to be fourteen options), choose from Default, Sans-serif, or Serif typefaces, and choose white, black, or sepia backgrounds. I’ve been reading the default text on a black background, and it is crisp.

You have the ability to download the book to the device, so you can read offline. That is an icon in your bottom right that looks like a cloud with down arrow on it.

At the top of the screen (after you tap the page), there is a library symbol (three books), with which you can add it to or take it away from your “favorites”. There is a sharing symbol, which lets you like it on Scribd, e-mail it, or “other”. I haven’t played around with that much…e-mailing it would be information about the book, presumably.

So, I would describe it as being all about the reading, without the ability to annotate (or listen to TTS).

Would I pay the $8.99 if they had TTS? Maybe…my Significant Other hasn’t really checked it out enough yet to give me the impression of a less techy user.

The book I’m reading, by the way, is

Crash: When UFOs Fall From the Sky: A History of Famous Incidents, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups (at AmazonSmile)

by Kevin Randle. Randle is going through all sorts of reported UFO crashes, and generally dismisses them for various reasons, or simply lists them without endorsing them.

The author is a recognized expert on the Roswell Incident and has been seen as an advocate of the reality of an extraordinary event there.

It’s interesting, therefore, that even though this is what we used to call a “seed catalog” type listing, it certainly doesn’t come across as the work of a simple true believer.

Randle writes more about some of the cases, including Shag Harbor and Kecksburg. I would describe the writing as largely intentionally dispassionate, which isn’t all that common (from Skeptics or true believers) in this field. I find that refreshing, although some of the customer reviews on Amazon describe it as “boring”. ;)

I also want to mention that I’ve started to look into


another e-book subser, recently promoted on the Ellen Degeneres show.

It’s a very different concept, much more like Amazon’s own Audible.

You pay a flat rate a month, and can get a certain number of e-books.

For example, you can pay $9.99 a month and get two books. That’s pretty much how it works: about $5 per book, with a strict limit as to how many books you get.

However, you do own the books. If you stop paying, you still get them…so, in a way, it’s like getting an AmazonLocal coupon.

The selection seems very impressive, and they do have a free trial.

The books use the Adobe DRM (Digital Rights Management) system, but they do have an app for a Kindle Fire (hm…I wonder if that app would allow you to read other Adobe DRM books on your Fire?).

I haven’t tested this all much, yet, but I thought I’d let you know. :)

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Round up #219: Kids need books, Black Friday deal revealed?

November 9, 2013

Round up #219: Kids need books, Black Friday deal revealed?

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Mini-review: Teenagers from the Future

Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes
edited by Timothy Callahan
text-to-speech, lending enabled (no X-Ray, no Whispersync for Voice)
$4.99 at time of writing (can be borrowed through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library at time of writing)

Writing about popular culture and treating it as Significant Art can be tricky.

In some cases, it appears that the author really isn’t a fan or understands the genre all that well, but rather enjoys applying academic skills to any subject…sort of like trying to figure out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, without really believing there are angels…or caring about dance.

On the other side, you have “fans who write”, who don’t necessarily write all that well, but are enthusiastic and simply want you to believe that Superman is as deep as Shakespeare, with an understanding of the latter consisting mostly of education by Leonardo DiCaprio and Olivia Hussey. ;)

While Teenagers from the Future is almost by necessity uneven (being a collection of essays by different authors), it falls into neither of the above categories.

I found it both insightful and entertaining.

I read the Legion when it was first published, and haven’t really kept up with its development in subsequent reboots…but I find that it’s generally much more difficult to spoil comics for someone than to spoil a book. They aren’t always about this or that particular plot twist…sometimes, even if you know the plot, it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of it.

What is the Legion?

Well, it’s kind of a bizarre concept, at least the way I knew it…and that’s part of what makes it work.

In the future, a group of teenagers, inspired by the adventures of Superboy (Superman when he was a boy) in their distant past, form a club of superheroes (yes, they have super powers…although in some cases, their powers would be normal on their home planets). They then interact with Superboy, through time travel.

Okay, that’s strange enough initially…super powered fans and the complexities of time travel.

However, the Legion was not your typical comic series. For one thing, they killed off a major character quite quickly.

For another, they had a group of reject applicants (the Substitute Legion) with powers that were either pretty useless (one could turn into a statue…not a moving statue, just a statue: another could change the colors of objects), or were dangerously unpredictable (Infectious Lass, for example, who could generate diseases…but not control reliably which ones or who they affected).

All of that was obvious to me when I was first reading it.

Not so obvious was some of the social commentary. As John G. Hemry writes in this collection in the essay, “Liberating the Future: Women in the Early Legion”, by the 30th Century, women were treated a lot more equally (usually).

The Legion was often led by Saturn Girl, and there wasn’t anything considered to be unusual about a woman leading the group (often into combat…and the female Legionnaires fought like the male ones, punching people, when not using their powers).

I wonder how much that did influence readers of the comics. I suspect that Legion readers were much more comfortable in the 1960s and 1970s with female bosses (whether the employees were females or males) than the average person.

I also enjoyed the “The Legion’s Super-Science” by James Kakalios. It includes an analysis of how the Legion’s “flight rings” might actually work.

One thing about the Legion: they celebrated intelligence, not just fighting ability. Kakalios points out:

“In Adventure Comics #321, June 1964, when Lightning Lad is locked up for the rest of his life for ‘betraying’ the Legion by  ‘revealing’ the  secret  of the Concentrator, his cell has buttons for the three essentials of life: food, water, and books!”

I don’t think you have to be a Legion fan (there are still many) to enjoy the book…but I do think it would help. ;) This might be another good gift for a Baby Boomer geek (the Legion started in 1958).

Best Buy Black Friday Kindle HD deal?

I’ve written before about

my favorite source for information about sales on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).

Thanks go to a reader, though, who gave me a heads up in a private e-mail to this

ZDnet story by Sean Portnoy

I hadn’t started planning for the day yet, but according to them, a Best Buy employee mentioned some Black Friday deals during an interview with a local TV station in Arkansas, and one of them was the

Kindle Fire HD 7″, HD Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB – Without Special Offers

for $99.99.

At least, I think that’s the one: the “Blueshirt” says, in this

Arkansas Matters video

that it is usually $199.99. Well, I don’t know of any configuration that gets you as high as $199.99 at for the Kindle Fire HD, but that’s the closest.

“Doorbusters” like this often disappear quickly and are in limited quantities, so even if this is a nationwide deal, you can’t be sure you’ll get one.

Interestingly, doing a search for Kindle

at this point only shows deals on Fires, not on other models. That will likely change in the next couple of weeks, though.

Amazon may also offer deals: two years ago, they had a big deal on Kindle books on Cyber Monday (the Monday following Black Friday).

Eek! A mouse!

This is a bit weird! Here is a picture from Amazon’s own Lab126 of a wall of Kindles and Kindle insides:

It’s certainly nostalgic to look at it (it sort of looks like a room of hunting trophies), but what appears to be a Kindle Keyboard has a mouse attached to it!

There’s another one that could possibly be a color display on a large screen EBR (E-Book Reader…not a Fire), but it s more likely just a picture in a frame. :)

Kids need books!

I was actually shocked by this

UK Children’s Commissioner survey


The Telegraph article by Sam Marsden

highlighted the significance of technological gadgets to the young people:

“Invited to say what they could not live without, 8.9 per cent of those questioned said their games console, 5.7 per cent said their mobile phone, 4.3 per cent said music and 3.4 per cent said sweets or chocolate.”

However, while “reading books” (and “school books” as a separate category) were in the questionnaire (I checked), I don’t see them being mentioned in the article or in the summary.

I’m sure quite a few of you would have listed that quite high when you were children, as would I. As a kid, I would have ranked books higher than “sweets or chocolate”. We didn’t have game consoles or mobile phones, and perhaps (based on the illustration in the questionnaire), these children are only answering that question around p-books (paperbooks), thinking that if they had a computer and/or a phone, they could still read books.

That’s my hopeful hypothesis. :)

What do you think? Does what we read for entertainment influence our social paradigms? When you were a kid, where would books have ranked among “things you need”? Higher than television, music, or pets? Do kids now think of p-books as something old-fashioned, and a different category than the books they read on their devices? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

Round up #209: bookstores, Hollowland

October 1, 2013

Round up #209: bookstores, Hollowland

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later. 

PowPow is shipping!


Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ High Resolution Display with Next-Gen Built-in Light, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers

has started its journey. :)

Since it’s a 2nd generation Paperwhite (PW), and I’ve been writing that as PW2 (which I read as “PW squared”), I have named it “PowPow”. ;)

I am looking forward to exploring it. I hope to have a menu map out by the end of Wednesday.

My Kindle Fire HDX 7″, HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB – Includes Special Offers (which I have named “HDXter”, pronounced “Aitch-Dexter”) is still scheduled for October 18th.

I’m excited to see them both!

Mini-review: Hollowland

Hollowland (The Hollows, #1)
by Amanda Hocking
Free at time of writing
X-ray, lending, text-to-speech, all enabled…and unlimited simultaneous device licenses

I’ve written about Amanda Hocking before. In particular, there was this piece, more than two and a half years ago, about Hocking being one of the iconic Amazon indie authors making it in the writing world. I’ve also said I think Amanda Hocking may be the best tweeter on the planet. ;)

However, honestly, I’d never read a novel by Amanda Hocking.

Now I have. :)

It was free, and I knew from the tweets this was a talented author.

The product page describes it as a “young adult” novel, although it wasn’t categorized that way.

Certainly, the protagonist would generally appeal to that demographic, and there are elements of the story structure (the way that the world can revolve around person still figuring out who they are and where they fit in it) that I’m sure help to contribute to an excellent 4.3 out of 5 star rating with 684 reviews.

However, I have to say…there are things where I would caution you. The appearance the “S word” early on…well, that’s becoming almost acceptable on broadcast TV. We did, though, get to the “F word” eventually. There is clinically described violence (quite a bit of it, even though it is commonly against “zombies”), and…um…an unambiguous sex scene.

If those aren’t concerns for you, then let me say that I liked the characterizations, and the world. I could feel for the people involved, be amused in the right places, and recognize the realness of several of the characters.

As an animal lover (and Hocking tweets quite a few animal pictures), I also appreciated one particular element.

Overall, the story was enjoyable, and I was looking forward to seeing what happened next as I went through it.

In terms of production quality, well, there were a number of minor typos, but they weren’t as common as zombie kills in the book. ;) The cover was haunting.

I wouldn’t say this is classic literature, but if you are comfortable with the elements I mentioned and are looking for a good popcorn book, this could be it.

Library of Congress websites will go offline if the government shuts down

As I write this (but maybe not when you read it), we don’t know yet if the U.S. government will shut down, and if does, for how long.

We do know, though, that the Library of Congress websites (with the exceptions of and will go offline if it happens.

That would include a site I’ve mentioned before:

While many people would be affected in much more serious ways, I thought some of you might be wondering…

Bookstore mini-round-up

You know, I read a lot of stories about bookstores…both about ones opening and ones closing. I know I’m probably more interested in that than some of you, since I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I do think it relates to e-books, though, since the different delivery media for books (e-books, audiobooks, p-books ((paperbooks))) have an interdependency. Feel free to let me know if you’d rather not see these types of stories. LA’s Last Bookstore looks to keep the page in the digital age by Colin Berry

This sounds like a bookstore I’d like to visit! It’s funky and apparently has a huge selection of used books, many for $1. It’s exactly the kind of store I’ve suggested could thrive in the current and projected environment. They’ve made it an experience to go there:

“The result could be out of a neo-Victorian sci-fi novel. As Spencer has imagined it, the Last Bookstore is more quirky than stuffy, with bicycle-wheel chandeliers, a huge mural made of paperbacks, and sculptures made of books that literally fly off the shelves.”

New York Daily News: True South, financially strapped black bookstore, closes in Bedford-Stuyvesant by Reuven Blau

On the other hand, not every specialty bookstore is going to survive, even with community support. I love that there was this bookstore in Bed-Stuy: that’s not what you always hear about with that neighborhood…

Idaho Stateman: Ada Community Library Bookstore grand opening Oct. 5 by Cynthia Sewell

That’s right: it’s a used bookstore as part of a community library…and it’s adding a bookstore to the world.

How is it going overall for bookstores?

Fortune: The indie bookstore resurgence by Verne Kopytoff

The article (which I recommend) has several positive indicators…more sales, more membership in the American Booksellers Association.

However, it does talk about Amazon’s “aversion” to collecting State sales tax. Amazon has sent a top executive to argue in favor of a national internet sales tax policy (not a new tax, but what I refer to as “equal collection legislation”. What they don’t want is different rules in different places. Of course, I think it’s also reasonable to ask: if brick-and-mortar stores were not collecting sales tax now, would they be “averse” to having that added to their duties? I’m thinking yes…which suggests that there isn’t a moral superiority in that element, but simply a matter of circumstance. I’m not saying that local institutions aren’t more inclined towards paying local taxes (since they see the benefits more directly), but I don’t think it’s fair to say that because you are doing something you are legally required to do, you are better than someone who hasn’t been legally required to do the same thing.

What do you think? Amazon has fought a sales tax thing…are they taking advantage of the tax structure to get an unfair marketplace edge? Do stories about brick-and-mortar bookstores belong in ILMK? Are you excited because you ordered a new Kindle? Have you been to any of the bookstores I mentioned? If so, how was it? Did you buy anything? Is it okay for young adult books to use profanity and have violence and sex scenes? If so, what makes them young adult? Is that not a label for guidance, but just one for marketing? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Wicked, Oz, and reimagining public domain works

June 10, 2013

Wicked, Oz, and reimagining public domain works

I have recently finished reading Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years) for the first time. I came to it as a big Oz fan, with a good knowledge of the official books in the series.

The book has been influential. When you see works created since Wicked’s release in 1995 which “reimagine” putative children’s literature for a modern, adult audience, you can often see how the spirit of this book caught on with the creative community (and with those who market entertainment). Would we have had Disney’s Once Upon a Time series without Wicked? Perhaps, but not in the same way.

I had certainly heard of Wicked: I sold it when I managed a brick and mortar bookstore. I was able to approach it without knowing much about the particulars, though.


I will reveal some fairly minor things about the book (and the original Oz books and the 1939 movie) below. I’m careful about trying not to take away the sense of discovery from those who are going to first encounter a work, and that’s why I’m giving you this warning. I don’t think I’m going to write about anything any particular plot twists, but I will mention some elements that appear in the book.

What I did anticipate was that the book was going to make the characters seem “more like real human beings”. I expected there to be sex and violence: there sometimes seems to be this idea that so-called children’s literature is limited by an ability to portray those areas of life, and that writing for adults frees the author to cover those. I don’t think L. Frank Baum wanted to put in sex scenes, and was told that was inappropriate by someone else…this isn’t an external constraint, it’s an artistic choice. There is certainly violence in the original Wizard of Oz book…the Tin Woodman alone accounts for over 100 deaths. There isn’t any explicit sex in the original series, although romantic love is an element.

That would have been okay with me. I’ve been called a prude because I don’t use obscenities in the blog, and have sometimes criticized their use by others (although I think that has not particularly been for fictional works). I alert people to possibly  objectionable elements when I do reviews, but that doesn’t make me give the book a more negative review (although I do think it can limit an audience, while perhaps expanding another).

Where did make me more uncomfortable here was the negative attitude the book presents about the world.

That always tends to get to me in books. When a book presents things as people (human or not) being generally “bad”, I find that unrealistic. I’m not a fan of cruelty in books by people who aren’t the clear “villains”, but are simply in the general populace. It just clashes with my own paradigm, in that I think people are generally “good”. For that reason, it feels…exploitative, I guess.

Gregory Maguire’s Oz is a very cruel place. Adults are cruel, children are cruel. There is overwhelming societal prejudice, against strangers, against intelligent Animals (more on that capitalization later).

Does that contrast with the original series?

Well, there are some cruel people in L. Frank Baum’s Oz. They are, however, in a tiny minority.

That’s perhaps part of why Oz has been part of our culture for well over a hundred years. People who read Oz would like to go there…despite the Wicked Witches, the Nome King, the Wheelers, the Princess who wants to take your head, and the deadly Kalidahs. There is slavery (it’s quite common), and suicide. Still, most people in Oz are good, and Ozma (the main ruler of Oz after the Wizard) has an open heart.

That’s nothing like Maguire’s Oz. Maguire carefully brings in names and elements from the original series, but they are seen through the opposite of rose-colored glasses.

Mentioning color brings up a key point.

While the book is supposedly based on the public domain Oz books, and gathers characters from books beyond the first (Tik-Tok, for example, appears in a different form…the clockwork robot first appeared in the fifth book of the series), it clearly owes a great deal to the non-public domain 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Much of what happens in the book stems from the Wicked Witch of the West being green. Naturally, that’s seen as a bad omen (I don’t think there are any good omens in Wicked). As an infant and forward, Elphaba (Maguire creates new names for characters), is seen as a symbol of evil because of skin color, and that naturally impacts the future Wicked Witch’s emotional development.

The Wicked Witch of the West is not green in the L. Frank Baum books. That was apparently introduced in the 1939 movie, partially to show off the color in the movie.

Also, the Witch flying on a broomstick is important in Maguire’s Oz, and does not happen in Baum’s (although other witches do fly on broomsticks much later in the series).

After someone sings a song in Wicked, there is a mention of rainbows…a not so subtle connection to Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

It’s absolutely fair to say that the 1939 movie was also different from the original books. It was not a success when first released…there were many Oz fans who didn’t like the casting of Bert Lahr, a known comedian, as the Cowardly Lion, for one thing.

However, it is different in different ways from Maguire’s Oz. It differs more in specifics than in tone.

Did I like Wicked?

Yes…I thought the writing was quite good. It was harsh, it was deliberately shocking in places, it was sometimes jarring (cigarettes, adjustable loans, and trains in Oz? For one thing, where were they growing the tobacco?)…but I really felt for the characters. I was anxious to see what happened next.

For me, it would have been a much better book if it didn’t have the Oz veneer over it…but can I honestly say I would ever have read it if it had just been a sort of Dickensian tale, without the magic and familiar characters? Probably not.

I will go on to other books in the Maguire series.

One last note about the book itself. I mentioned this capitalization thing with Animals. That was something that bothered be every time it happened: intelligent animals in Maguire’s Oz are pronounced in some way with a capital letter. That’s to distinguish a Cow (which speaks and thinks like a human) from a cow (which doesn’t). I didn’t get that: how do you pronounce it differently? I listened to part of the book with text-to-speech, and of course, Ivona didn’t pronounce it any differently. I didn’t have trouble telling what was meant by the context, though…it just seemed like a contrivance. As a vegetarian, I wasn’t happy with the treatment of the animals or Animals in the book, but people weren’t particularly more cruel to them than they were to other more human types that they encountered.

This all got me thinking about when people reimagine public domain works. That can produce some great things. For example, West Side Story and Forbidden Planet are both based (somewhat loosely) on Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest, respectively).

That can lead to some great new insights and art. Philip José Farmer’s A Barnstormer In Oz, which preceded Wicked by some thirteen years, similarly explores Oz with a different sensibility…and yes, more realistic violence and sex than the original books.

I’m not opposed, under the current legal structure, to new adventures with public domain characters…I just recommended authors do just that in Three characters walk into a plot….

I think Wicked has considerable value as a work of art, even if I don’t personally like its sensibility.

I don’t think a derivative work damages the original…even though many people may first become familiar with something through an adaptation or derivation (I would guess the vast majority of people in the world know MGM’s Oz much better than Baum’s).

I’m curious what you think, though. Do you feel like classic characters and books need to be “respected” by not being portrayed in ways other than the original? Is it okay for later authors to change their inner motivations? What do you think when a book labeled a children’s book is “updated” with sex and explicit violence? If that’s clear to the audience, is it still some sort of “violation” of the characters?

Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Round up #175: my new hero, Apple trial begins

June 4, 2013

Round up #175: my new hero, Apple trial begins

The ILMK Round ups are short pieces which may or may not be expanded later.

Apple Agency Model trial begins

We can now refer to the trial as the Apple Agency Model trial. Initially, the Department of Justice (DoJ) went after five publishers and Apple for conspiring to raise e-book prices (basically…I’m simplifying here), but all five publishers have settled with the DoJ. That leaves Apple as the only defendant, so it’s not “Apple and the publishers” any more.

Even though lawyers can’t pivot very quickly, that does change the dynamic. I think, for one thing, it lets Apple set it up as much more that the DoJ was out to get them, specifically, and was supporting Amazon. If you are the only person being “picked on”, it’s easier to convince people that it is unfair, in my opinion.

Judge Cotes expects the non-jury trial to last three weeks, according to this

Washington Post article by Cecilia Kang

We could see some very interesting things come out of this. Who testifies? What industry secrets might be revealed (including ones about Amazon)? How does Steve Jobs’ reputation come out of it? Will any of the publisher big wigs testify against Apple?

I’ll keep an eye on it for you.

Update: here is a slide deck that the DoJ presented…I may write more about it later, but you can see why Judge Cote thought the government might have enough evidence, in my opinion:

Kindle Fire sale

Through June 8th, US customers can get a Kindle Fire HD (7″ or 8.9″, with or without 4G) for $20 off, subject to these

Deal Terms & Conditions

One of the main things: you need to enter a code (DADSFIRE), meaning that you can not make this purchase with 1-Click.

Mini review: Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet)
by Orson Scott Card

When I recently polled my readers about what they like in ILMK (I Love My Kindle), reviews weren’t very high (although they weren’t super low). So, to accommodate that, I may do more of these “mini reviews”…that way, you don’t have a whole post on one book as often, but for those not insubstantial numbers who liked them, you still get my opinion. ;)

One interesting thing for me about the current e-book market is that I’ll see books put on sale for a short period of time that may be books about which I’ve certainly heard, but have never read. As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore, I can assure you that prices fluctuate much more wildly in e-books than they do in paper!

Ender’s Game is a case like that. It’s not that expensive now ($4.39 at the time of writing), but it was on sale and I wanted to read it before the movie comes out on November 1st.

I’d heard a bit about it (it is one of my relative’s favorite books), but was going into it reasonably spoiler free. :)

I’m also aware of the…controversy over the author’s personal beliefs (I think that may lead to protests or boycotts of the movie), but as I’ve written about before, I try to separate the art and the artist.

The first thing I’ll say is that, if you think you don’t like science fiction…well, this book is probably not going to change your mind. ;) A lot of the book is involved with technology, and with some speculative social things. I didn’t recommend it to my Significant Other, partially for that reason…too much techno going on.

It does, though, also focus on people, and I’d be reasonably certain that the people who like it, like it mainly for that reason.

Well, more accurately, it focuses on one person…Ender Wiggins. In the same way that you have to empathize with Katniss Everdeen to like The Hunger Games trilogy (despite there being other interesting characters), you have to connect to Ender to like Ender’s Game.

“Empathize” might be a tricky word here, though…I don’t mean that you have to wish you were Ender, or even think you would like Ender in the real world, but what happens to Ender, what Ender feels has to matter to you.

I think Ender (and the whole book) may particularly appeal to adolescents who are feeling that “outsider” thing, and that the adults have too much power (and may not deserve it).

The book was a bit of an odd mix for me. There were definitely action sequences, but the book is much more conceptual than it is emotional (although it is that, too).

I did find it interesting…I think that may be a better way to put it than saying that I enjoyed it.

Mini reviews: Tetris Blitz and Plasma Sky

I try not to write too much just about the Kindle Fire (although one of my purely Kindle Fire posts has become one of the most popular in the blog). I did write about a Kindle Fire sale earlier, but I figure this won’t make it too much in this round-up. :)

While I still play Dabble (and I do like word games), I’ve been enjoying two other Kindle Fire games recently (to varying degrees and for different reasons).

TETRIS® Blitz (Kindle Tablet Edition) is from the makers of Tetris, and is sort of a speed round version of the game. Each game only last two minutes…I did think that sometimes a Tetris game would seem to go on forever (or at least too long) if I was playing well.

You also have to make decisions much more quickly…you don’t just let the blocks (“Tetriminos”) drip-drip-drip down from the top…you can tap on the screen and place them quickly, and you’ll need to do that to get a good score.

There are also “power ups”, and some of those are cool…I particularly like the “lasers”, which wipe out three rows at a time.


The game is free, and that’s a problem.

Why is it a problem?

They constantly want you to buy more stuff (including the aforementioned power-ups). Even though we are both adults using our Fires, we’ve turned off In-App purchasing (Swipe down from the top – More – Applications – Apps (in the bottom part) – In-App Purchasing) so we don’t accidentally buy things. In this case, you buy things with coins. You can earn the coins (somewhat slowly…you’d need to play about ten games before you had enough coins to buy a power-up, usually), or you can buy them with real money.

I’d be very careful with kids with this one…the temptation to buy things is going to be as strong as the lure of a Vegas slot machine. ;)

It’s a fun game…but I would say I would have paid $2.99 to get a version without all of those enticements!

I got Plasma Sky – Rad Space Shooter as a Free App of the Day (it’s currently $1.99), and that worked just the way it is supposed to work.

I’m writing about it, to tell you it’s fun!

It’s really like an old 1980s style arcade game (in particular, Galaga), but you control your spaceship by tilting the Kindle Fire. It is the thing I’ve used so far that takes the most advantage of the inclinometer. The controls are easy, and you can just keep continuing the game if you want to get to different levels.

You have three game modes…I’ve mostly played Conquest, which has eighty levels.

Like many older videogames, you have to develop different strategies to defeat different enemies…which means it is a thinking game, in addition to being a shooter.

If, like me, you think of it all as being done by unpiloted craft, it’s not really violent…no screams, no blood.

It’s not frustratingly difficult, but it would take you a lot of work to get a perfect score…for me, that’s great design.

The enemies and power-ups are creative and fun.

I highly recommend Plasma Sky is you like a simple arcade style game. Tetris Blitz…well, if you are okay with being asked to spend more money all the time (you can say no…and then say no again, and again, andagainandagainandagain…), it’s an interesting game.

5-year old Sophia Moss is my new hero

My record is reading 3 1/2 novels in a day…at that pace, I could hypothetically read 1,277.5 books in one year of 365 days.

Sophia Moss, who is 5-years old, has read 875 books…this school year (kindergarten).

ABC News article

Sure, those aren’t full length novels, but come on! If we figure that was in only 3/4s of a year, Sophia could hit 1,165.75 books in a year…close enough to me, and I suppose this bookworm might read faster in the summer than when in school.

I, by the way, was never maintaining my pace!

A tip of the hat to you, Sophia Moss…and to your school and your legal guardian(s)! You did it, but they helped make it possible.

What do you think? Do you want to add in your congratulations to Sophia Moss? :) Will Apple prevail? If they do (or if they don’t), what will that mean for e-books? Are you a big Ender’s Game fan? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Review: Freak Nation

April 21, 2013

Review: Freak Nation

Freak Nation
by Kate Stevens
published by Adams Media
this edition: 2010
size: 568KB (258 pages)
categories: nonfiction; education & reference; humor & entertainment; trivia; social sciences – pop culture
lending: yes
simultaneous device licenses: six
real page numbers: yes
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: no
Whispersync for Voice: no

“What all these designations of the word ‘freak’ have in common is that they refer to something that deviates from the norm, and while in America’s  classrooms we celebrate diversity, in America’s open spaces and private lives, we celebrate deviance. Deviance is a reminder to ourselves and to others that we are unique, our own person, and dedicated to not entirely fitting in. So we who are about to freak, salute you. Be yourself, know thyself, tune in, turn on, and freak out!”
–Kate Stevens
writing in Freak Nation

I know I’m not like everybody else…and neither is anyone. ;)

We are all unique in different ways, but it has always fascinated me when people want to be different together.

I see some forms of dress, for example, that seem like a uniform…or even a costume. That can be accompanied by slang, eating habits…it is the non-conformists conforming to each other.

Freak Nation, by Kate Stevens, brings us many of these sub-cultures in America. It’s broken down into sections, and each section has several entries:

  • Collectibles
  • Fashion
  • Art
  • Food and drink
  • Lifestyles
  • Music
  • Sports and games
  • Pastimes and careers
  • Politics
  • Sex
  • Society
  • Technology

Lifestyles, for example, has entries for

  • Bohemians
  • Nudists
  • Homeschoolers
  • Hoarders
  • Trustafarians
  • Urban Homesteaders
  • Survivalists
  • Houseboaters
  • Bilderbergers
  • Dumpster Divers

The entries all follow the same pattern. This is not a narrative sociological study. It’s a “field guide”, with humor. Each case has these elements:

  • Name
  • Also known as
  • Just don’t call them
  • Core belief
  • Who they are
  • How to recognize
  • To be found
  • Hero
  • Their idea of fun
  • Most distinctive trait
  • Biggest controversy
  • Biggest misconception about
  • What you may have in common
  • Buzzwords
  • Sign of fan
  • Sign of geek
  • Sign of superfreak

As you can see, some of these are there to help you consider them as…well, not weirder than you. In particular, that’s what the “What you may have in common” section does.

In general, these seem to be well-researched, and presented (usually) in a non-judgmental manner. Yes, there was one error that stood out strongly to me: the author referred to Area 51 as being in New Mexico, when it is actually in Nevada. That is enough to make me question other facts in the book, but my guess is that it is probably 90% or more accurate.

I do fit into some of these groups (vegetarians, Trekkies…don’t get me started on the Trekker terminology, and oddly, Trekkies are filed under “Fashion”), and I thought we were represented reasonably well.


In a very unusual position for me, I’m not going to recommend this book to you.

In a book which could have, should have, and for the most part did promote tolerance, there was one of the most offensive ethnic jokes I’ve ever read. It was particularly jolting because it was our of character for the book…and was completely unnecessary. The joke was about the French, and there were any number of other ways to make another joke there that wouldn’t have been so egregious. There was another joke about the Irish.

Just based on the French joke alone, I wouldn’t recommend that people read this book, which is so unfortunate as far as I’m concerned. It’s a digital book, now…if they want to go in and change that one joke (and the Irish one), it would change my feelings about it considerably.

I say it is a “digital book now”, because this is a book I considered buying in paper. I was happy to see it show up as an e-book, and part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where I could read it for free.

Even though I find the book unacceptable, that doesn’t mean I won’t keep describing it for you, if you want to buy it (and I won’t hold that against you). :) I’m quite a tolerant person (my Significant Other suggests that my family really goes overboard on that, and perhaps we tolerate behavior within ourselves that we shouldn’t), and that extends to you finding things acceptable that bother me.

The book was adapted well for being an e-book, with an active table of contents (meaning you can click on it to go to sections), and clickable links within each section.

It did have that weird thing that is done sometimes, when the cover and the back of the book are simply reproduced as images…as if the book (in this case, an apparently unbound version) was just stuck on a scanner (you can see the imperfect pages).

I liked that the  quotations  related to the sections often came from very different sources than the groups themselves: that was a nice, erudite touch.

Oh, and the book does use the “F word”. That doesn’t prevent me from recommending a book, but I do think some people like to know about it ahead of time.

Well, I think I’ve given you a clear sense of my feelings about the book. :) Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

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

Review: Burning the Page

April 18, 2013

Review: Burning the Page

Burning the Page: The eBook revolution and the future of reading
by Jason Merkoski
published by Sourcebooks
this edition: 2013
size: 443KB (no page count listed yet)
categories: nonfiction; business & investing; history-world-21st Century; science-technology-general & reference
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six
real page numbers: no
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: no
Whispersync for Voice: no

“Those who read this years from now, please don’t forget that the future wasn’t always digital and that books weren’t always electronic.

Because without the ebook revolution, the future could never have happened.”
–Jason Merkoski
writing in Burning the Page: The eBook revolution and the future of reading

I’m one of those people who is fascinated with the process of things.

I know a lot of people see a movie like The Wizard of Oz, and simply enjoy the end product…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

For me, though, I wonder about how it got there. I’ve been a manager, and I’ve taught Project Management, and I’ve lived around human beings. :)

Very rarely does someone come up with a plan, and then follows it exactly as expected, and gets the end result they intended…and if they do, they aren’t going to revolutionize the world.

The studio wanted Shirley Temple for the Wizard of Oz, but couldn’t get her. Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett) was cast as the Tin Man, but had a bad reaction to the make-up and was replaced. The suits thought “Over the Rainbow” should be cut, because it slowed down the action, and there was a song and dance number about the “Jitterbug” which was removed.

It took a lot of accidents, and a lot of compromise, to create the movie masterpiece that is the Wizard of Oz.

The Kindle has that same sort of magical feel for an end user.

Sure, there are flaws in it, but people love it.

So, I was really looking forward to reading Jason Merkoski’s insider story of the creation of the Kindle, Burning the Page.

I had seen some good press on it, and Merkoski no longer works at Amazon after shepherding the EBR (E-Book Reader) project, so I thought we might hear some really interesting stories about how decisions got made.

While I did find the book a worthwhile read, it really wasn’t the “here’s what happened” narrative I wanted.

There is some fun stuff about the feel of working for Jeff Bezos, but there was very little about how and why they decided to do this or that.

Some of that may be covered by an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement), I suppose. However, the book is much more about the past of books and speculation about the future than it is about the development of the Kindle.

Merkoski writes well. There was a nicely evocative section of imagining what it was like to work in Gutenberg’s workshop…it realistically suggests the social part of that, not just what it was like  getting that Bible done.

This, for example, was a funny line:

“Perhaps Amazon had previously shot itself in the foot so many times that it thought it had bulletproof shoes.”

I didn’t pick that quotation to suggest that the book is all anti-Amazon…this isn’t an exposé (very little does get exposed). Jason Merkoski appears to have liked working at Amazon.

We are alike in some ways, not the least important is our love of books. What comes through of that is really heartening.

However, in some ways it’s more like a series of essays (or better yet, blog posts), than it is narrative. I do think it would qualify as “narrative non-fiction” under Common Core, but if you think of a narrative as having a beginning, a middle, and an end, this isn’t it.

It’s well-researched and well-imagined, but it’s one thing here, then another thing, then another. That may, though, fit a lot of people’s reading style.

I did have some problems with the book.

Merkoski talks about putting on a “futurist’s hat”, but you can’t be a good futurist without knowing what current state is. Merkoski makes many suggestions for the future, including having a communication channel within books where you can talk to other readers, and having a way to restrict a tablet to just reading (which a teacher might do with a student).

Both of those are already here…in Amazon’s  Kindle Fire. In fact, the implementation of FreeTime is a lot more sophisticated than Merkoski suggests for a future device.

I wonder if Merkoski saw the Fire as a…perhaps betrayal of the reflective screen Kindle he created, and has just mentally blocked it from sight. The author does talk about iPads, but the Kindle Fire just shows up in three brief mentions, with nothing about its features.

This was also an odd statement to me:

“…theft of physical books is rare…”

That may be true from personal homes, but as a former brick and mortar bookstore manager, I can tell you that they have been commonly stolen. Our goal for “shrinkage” (theft, employee theft, loss to damage) was eight percent. That’s high in retail…if almost one out of every ten books was stolen, we’d still be on goal.

Now, some of you have read me saying that before, and you know I am proud of having been a bookstore manager.

That may be another thing Jason Merkoski and I have in common…a certain self-satisfied pride.

One of the important things Jason Merkoski wants you to know is how important Jason Merkoski is. ;)

“Almost no one in the company had exactly the right set of qualifications to help Lab126 and Amazon speak to and understand each other, with one exception: me.”

One other concern before I recommend the book (which I am going to do).

The author writes a lot about Reading 2.0 (Merkoski’s term), and how wonderful multi-media and social features will make books.

However, as you may have noticed at the beginning of this post, not much is actually enabled in this book. Yes, you have text-to-speech access, but a publisher doesn’t have to do anything to make that happen. There’s no X-Ray, no lending, no Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, no Whispersync for Voice. The author does these nice little discussion points, and invites readers to participate. The  discussions are in a box…but the box doesn’t really fit on a “page”, so it looks weird to me. It’s an odd graphic choice, affected by the font size you use. If you go to participate in one of the discussions, you have to sign in with Twitter or Facebook at an external website…it just doesn’t feel very integrated to me. There are no illustrations in the body of the book.

It simply doesn’t seem like the book takes advantage of Merkoski’s own ideas.

Still, I am going to recommend this book to you. There is some great writing, and some insight into the Kindle. The definitive story hasn’t been told yet…that may take an outsider, so we get something far more revealing and narrative like Stephen Baker’s Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything. Still, Burning the Page is a pleasant enough read, and Merkoski’s ideas will get you thinking about the future of reading.

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

Review: MyFitnessPal

April 3, 2013

Review: MyFitnessPal

Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal
From MyFitnessPal
Free at time of writing

I’m giving my whole (healthy) hearted endorsement for this one. ;)

As some of you know, I work with medical folks. I’m not a clinician myself…I just train ‘em. Not on their clinical work, but on their software and efficiencies.

So, I’m not claiming any medical expertise here, although I do get exposed to the concepts more than the average person.

MyFitnessPal, which is available for the Kindle Fire, Android, iOS (iPhones and iPads), Blackberry, and Windows Phone is the best app I’ve seen for tracking your health habits (diet and exercise)…certainly, the best free app.

The concept is pretty simple: tracking what you eat tends to make you eat better, since it makes you more mindful of what you are consuming.

It’s especially good if you can track calories, sodium, cholesterol, and so on, and have a goal.

The problem for most people is that it’s just too much work (well, that, and a lot of people would rather not know). ;)

That’s what makes this app work so well for me.

I’m a vegetarian, and already a pretty healthy eater. Typically, if I want to track something like Morningstar Farms Breakfast Patties, your typical app isn’t going to know what they are.

MyFitnessPal lets people “crowdsource” foods…if one person enters it, it’s available to everybody.

That does mean that the same food may appear several times, because people entered it somewhat differently (for example, it might appear both with and without the brand name).

However, I didn’t find that to be daunting.

For example, if I put in “veggie breakfast patty” in the search, the basic Morninstar Farms one comes up twice…once for “Morningstar”, and once for “Morningstar Farms”.

That’s not hard, though. I just add it into my meal, and I’m good.

The next time I go to do the same meal category (say, lunch), it will come up as something I’ve done before…I don’t have to keep typing it in.

On my Kindle Fire, you couldn’t scan a barcode, but on my Samsung Captivate SmartPhone, you could.

So, that part is easy. :) There are unprocessed foods as well, of course.

If you are using a processed food, I find it knows the nutrition facts, allowing it to track items like sodium.

That’s just the beginning.

You can also enter exercise, enter your weight and some measurements (including neck size…I know some of the people who care for your heart care about that one).

You can track your water use, which some individuals like to do.

During the day, it tells you how much you have “left” of the different values…when you enter exercise, you get more calories to burn, for example.

While the interface isn’t completely intuitive, it’s clear enough. From the Home screen, you can tap “Daily” and see your “scores” for that day…then swipe backwards for previous days.

These are my “nutrient details” for yesterday (and how many bloggers would show you that?) ;) I try not to make the blog “all about me”, but this is for purposes of illustration:


It syncs between my devices seamlessly (including my PC), but, and this is a big thing, you do not need to be connected to enter data. The upload just happens the next time you open the app.

You can even have friends and share data with them (having exercise/diet buddies really helps some people, although I haven’t tested that).

Oh, one other thing on the food: you can save an entire meal (I often eat mostly the same thing), and then just have it enter that meal. That’s in addition to individual entry, and “multi-add” (check off several of your previous foods, and add them all at once).

As you can tell, I highly recommend this one. :)

I do have a couple of little quibbles. It only remembers a food for one meal category: when I entered a food as a breakfast food, I had to enter it again as a lunch food. That’s not a big deal, but I can’t be the only one who eats the same thing at different times of the day (I may have a carrot at any time of time, for instance…Doc). ;)

I’d also like it to open to the Diary, as opposed to the Summary, but that’s just a one tap change.

Oh, and I should mention: this is a free app, and there are tiny ads. They are as unobtrusive as any ads I’ve seen in an app…they don’t cover up the buttons you use, or bounce around annoyingly.

If you want to stay in shape, or even just track your food intake because of possible allergies or something like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), the this is the one app I’ve seen so far that I would endorse.


Bonus deal:

One of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is

Tobacco Road

by Erskine Caldwell, originally published in 1932, and later a long-running play and a movie. It’s a tale of the poor rural south. It’s $1.99 at time of writing (do check to see it’s that price for you before buying), and normally the digital list price is $14.99. You can get the audiobook with the Whispersync for Voice deal for $4.99, read by Mark Hammer, who comes up in the “Favorite Narrators” discussion at GoodReads:

Bonus bonus deal: ;)

Another one of the Kindle Daily Deals today is

Against the Fall of Night

by Arthur C. Clarke (again, check the price before buying it…as I was reminded on April Fool’s Day, some of you see these posts the calendar after I post them).

If the ABCs for you are “Asimov/Bradbury/Clarke”, this is a good one to add to your e-book collection.

While not Clarke’s best known work (that might be Childhood’s End, although the author is also very associated with 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course), this one has its fans as a less complex work than a lot of science fiction. It is an earlier version of The City and the Stars, but they are different enough that each one has its adherents.

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


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