Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: This Perfect Day

March 22, 2013

Review: This Perfect Day

This Perfect Day
by Ira Levin
published by Pegasus Books
this edition: 2011 (originally 1970)
size: 484KB (320 pages)
categories: science fiction; high tech (Bufo adds dystopia; social science fiction)
lending: yes
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 (although there are some neologisms)
x-ray: no
Whispersync for Voice: no

The movie versions of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives have secured author, playwright, and songwriter Ira Levin a place in the mainstream pop culture consciousness. However, I do think that This Perfect Day was ahead of its time, and if first released today, would be one of the first things associated with Levin.

What’s odd for me is that this dystopian literature (which is very popular today) that seems to tweak and comment on the formula…which didn’t exist yet. :)

Sure, there were dystopian works (Brave New World, 1984), but this ties clearly into The Matrix and the ones with young romances.

Don’t think, though, that this a comfortable read. For one thing, the “f word” is used completely appropriately…it’s not considered a swear word (it’s used referring to the act), although both “fight” and “hate” are considered shocking terms, and “fight” in particular is used the way people use the “f word” today (a great insult is to call someone a “brother-fighter”.

Without giving too much away, that’s because the society we encounter first is, hypothetically, one big happy family. They refer to it as the “Family”, and rather than “people” they talk about “members”.

What they think about our era is a fascinating commentary on our society, but also understandable within the world we are shown.

However, Levin goes far beyond what you might expect. I think that the book could be visually adapted now, although ideally, it would be something like a four-part miniseries on a cable channel.

It definitely had me thinking. As regular readers know, my favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and this did that. I also judge the impact of a work by whether or not it spontaneously comes back to me after finishing it. I’ve already had that happen several times since finishing this book: seeing something and having it relate back to the book.

Unlike some science fiction, though, it isn’t just about the technology…in fact, the technology really serves the social commentary. I was quite surprised to see this listed in the “high tech” category under science fiction at Amazon. You don’t have to be a gearhead at all to appreciate this one.

Again, this won’t be for everybody, and I think them include nudity on the cover image (a naked man from the back) may be intentional to signal that. I would say, though, that people who like dystopian young adult fiction can see this in some ways as an adult version of that genre.

I’d recommend this one.

I know that the price may put off some people (close to ten dollars). I bought it when it was sale, and I would guess that will happen again. You might want to list it at


which you can do for free, and they’ll send you a free e-mail when the price drops an amount you specify.

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

Review: Animals Make Us Human

March 17, 2013

Review: Animals Make Us Human

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
this edition: 2010
size: 486KB (355 pages)
categories: nonfiction; science; cognitive psychology; animals; animal husbandry
lending: no
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: yes
Whispersync for Voice:yes ($3.99 at time of writing, read by Andrea Gallo)

Temple Grandin is one of the most amazing people around.

The author is an autistic, an expert on animal behavior, and a great communicator.

You don’t expect the first and third to go together, and it’s a rare and marvelous thing.

As to animals, Grandin says that the way autistics think is similar to the way many non-human animals think, and that gives special insight.

I love animals, and I do seem to be able to have an unusually good relationship with them. I wouldn’t say I’m a great animal trainer, but I communicate with them well…both understanding what they want and being able to let them know what I want (that doesn’t mean they’ll always do it, though). ;)

For example, one of the proudest things in my life (outside of my family) was hand-taming a wild scrub jay.

It took a very long time and a lot of patience (which serves me well when I train people, which I do in my day job).

I started out tossing a bit of bread far enough away that the bird would hop up and take it.

I eventually (slowly, over days) moved the bread closer to my completely unmoving hand.

I realized at the time I had something that might be even more attractive than bread: live mealworms (which I had to feed small pets).

Believe me, it wasn’t easy keeping my hand still while a mealworm (actually a beetle larvae) was trying to burrow between my fingers! Meanwhile, this bird would be going hop, hop, hop, getting closer, and then rapidly, hophophop away.

Eventually, I got it so I could literally open the door to my apartment, whistle a special whistle, and the bird would fly from a tree across the street, through the open door, and land on my finger.

That was something!

I can also almost always make friends with dogs and cats…and other animals, too. I’ve called sea lions out of the water, and know a special trick that will get the walruses at fairly nearby Marine World to follow me around like dogs while I walk around in front of the underwater windows…makes for great pictures for visitors (and I’ve been told it’s fine to do by a marine biologist).

Even so, Temple Grandin and her students do things that would be a great challenge for me.

This book is not the revelation that Animals in Translation was, but this one is still well worth reading.

I think one of the big differences is that this one has a chapter each for various domestic (and captive) animals, and, well, if you aren’t interested in pigs, you might not find that one as intriguing.

There’s a lot of science in it, about the different emotional systems in animal brains (and humans, too).  None of it is hard to understand for a layperson, though.

Some of the most intriguing parts had to with related aspects to what Grandin does. Why did a lot of ineffective animal enclosures get built, after we knew of a better way? Partially because the companies that built them made more money on the bigger ones.

The animal material, though, is the core of it. I loved learning that wolves in the wild don’t behave at all in the way many people think: there isn’t an alpha male, for example. They don’t hunt in large packs, but in small family groups (it makes sense if you think about it…what prey is going to take twenty wolves to pull it down, and then how will they all get enough to eat?). You are the parent to the dogs in your household (in a typical set up), not an alpha male that has to keep the betas on down to omegas in line.

In this book, Temple Grandin also addresses being improving the lives of animals that will be eaten eventually anyway, and the logic of that compared to being an animal activist that opposes the slaughterhouses altogether. As a vegetarian, I found that part especially interesting.

This is not a book that will give you a simple 1-2-3, here’s how you get your dog to do a trick kind of guidance. It will, though, help you understand why your dog might be having difficulty learning that behavior.

One other thing: the book actually has an index that jumps you to the topic mentions! That’s unusual, and quite welcome. It’s interesting: it doesn’t give you page or location numbers, but if there are several locations, there are several jumps you can click. That works well.

Right now (through the end of March, I think) you can buy the book for $2.99, and you can borrow it through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. If you like animals, and/or you are interested in the emotional systems that humans use, I recommend it.

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

Review: 3 Hidden Objects Adventures HD

March 12, 2013

Review: 3 Hidden Objects Adventures HD

3 Hidden Objects Adventures HD (Kindle Tablet Edition)
from 7 Dragons
$1 at time of writing (qualifies for $1 MP3 credit)

What was your favorite part about going to the dentist as a kid?

Okay, hold on there…stop shivering like that!  ;)

No, I was not fond of going to the dentist…I can do it now, but it still isn’t easy.

However, my dentist did have Highlights For Children. Along with “Goofus and Gallant”, I think I’m safe in saying that one of most kids’ favorite features was the Hidden Pictures.

You’d be told there were, oh, seven elephants in a picture, and you had to find them. They might be upside down, or in trees, but they were clearly elephants.

Later generations have had two other similar big hits.

One was I Spy, a whole series of intricate picture books (I’ve just linked to one of them…not available in the Kindle store).

Another was Where’s Waldo?, surprisingly not available as e-books in the Kindle store from what I can see…I’ve linked to an app.

Now, 7 Dragons (which has a number of apps in the Amazon Appstore…I’ve mentioned them before) has entered the genre with 3 Hidden Objects Adventures HD (Kindle Tablet Edition).

This app (I tried it on my Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB) has wonderfully intricate pictures, and will be a challenge (but not an impossible one) for adults. Children can also play it, because you can change the settings. By default you have a limited time to find the items, but you can turn off the timer. You can also get hints, which will show you the location of an object.

I’ve only tried one of the adventures this morning. There are three:

  • After the Apocalypse
  • Lost at the Zoo
  • The Secret Forest

I went for Lost at the Zoo, because I love animals. My Significant Other kids me about my animal-spotting ability. When we go for a walk, I’ll literally notice a cat two blocks away…but not notice that a building has burned down. ;)

That makes some evolutionary sense to me: we had to be very aware of animals in our areas. I’m sometimes surprised that other people don’t see them more. When we were kids, we got geckos to run around loose in the house (to eat bugs). This was in suburban America, by the way. ;) One year we got parachute geckos, that would pitch off the ceiling and sort of glide to one of the walls (where they stick). It was a great amusement to us kids as to how few people would notice them at all (and they were maybe as long as your finger).

Regular readers also know that I have some color vision deficiency (color blindness), so I was interested to see if I would spot the objects in the images. That’s often an advantage, by the way: my understanding is that really colorblind people (which I’m not) aren’t as fooled by camouflage, so the military uses them as spotters.

I’m pleased to say that I did fine. :)

I’ll also point out that these aren’t simple outline like the ones in Highlights, they are more like I Spy (although it does seem to vary). I thought it was nice that at least one of the objects was actually hidden, as though someone had tried to hide it…part of the object was occluded by something else in the picture. It wasn’t cheating…you could still identify it, but it makes it more interesting that way.

I also think it’s a good thing that the descriptions aren’t exactly what you would expect. If you are told to look for a “doll”, that could look like a lot of things…and that adds to the intellectual challenge.

You can pinch and spread in the game to make the image larger, and it stayed sharp…that was great!

I often play apps with the sound turned off, but the music here was pleasant…slow, musical, not the midi beeping kinds of things you sometimes hear.

I think the interface is good: you can easily pause the game, for example, which obscures the picture…nice if you get interrupted.

You do need to be aware of how much memory it takes up. With a full install (and you don’t have to do that) on my device, I think it told me it would be 600MB (which is a lot…like a movie). There are 1024 megabytes in a gigabyte. Actually installed, my Fire tells me that it is 311MB at this point…it’s possible it may download more as I do more adventures, but I’m not sure about that.

It also seems to use my battery charge significantly, but so do many apps. If you were planning a long car trip, you might need to take that into account (I use a car charger for text-to-speech).

Overall, I find this a pleasant game. It’s a good way to show off the graphics capability of the Kindle Fire, and a fun, relaxed game (no in-app purchases, I believe, no frantic pace).

Full disclosure: I’ve had some correspondence with Abhi of iReader Review, who wrote me and asked me to talk about this app today (I’ve noticed that a couple of the other Kindle blogs have mentioned it today as well…I guess we’re free to see other bloggers). ;)

I was not given the game, although I was offered a gift certificate for it. I paid for it myself.

I won’t say that I didn’t mention it in part because I like Abhi, but I don’t think it’s unduly influenced this review.

Would I have bought it if I wasn’t asked? Probably not, because I’m not that visual a person, and this isn’t the first thing that I’d be seeking in an app. I do enjoy it, though, and I think my SO might as well. I also like having apps that kids can use, although our kid is an adult. :)

If you do buy it (up to you), feel free to comment on this post to tell me and my readers what you think. You could also probably leave one of the first reviews at Amazon. :) I always think that’s one of the best ways to support something you like.

I do want to say, I think this coordinated request technique (which is what I’m assuming it was) is fine. Timing matters: this app is new for the Fire platform, and lots of people getting it on the same day and/or writing reviews drives up  visibility. I was politely asked to mention it today, with nothing in exchange (since I declined the offered gift certificate). If you have a comment about me doing that, I’d be happy to hear that as well. I don’t accept paid ads for this blog, and don’t choose to use something like Google AdSense.  I think my readers prefer it that way, but I’m happy to hear what you think.

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

Review: Brain Rules

March 6, 2013

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
by John Medina
published by Pear Press
this edition: 2010
size: 775KB (322 pages)
categories: nonfiction; neuroscience; cognitive psychology; schools & teaching
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice:yes ($7.95 at time of writing, read by the author)

“But I also believe the  curiosity  instinct is so powerful  that  some people overcome society’s message to go to sleep intellectually, and they flourish anyway.”
–John Medina
writing in Brain Rules

If you believe that your mind exists through biomechanical operations of your brain, than those actions should be both detectable and limited by physiology. If that’s the case, understanding some of those limitations could help you both cope and succeed in the world.

If you believe that what you think is independent of your body, you may still believe that there are likely patterns of behavior, and those might be useful to know as well.

John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist…and a professor.

Brain Rules is backed up by science, but also by personal experience.

That’s a powerful combination.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I liked it best when it had cognitive resonance for me (when what it said confirmed what I already thought) then when it didn’t. ;)

Generally, the science was fascinating, and presented some very interesting possibilities.

For example, there is a section on a “Jennifer Aniston” neuron.  Essentially, a patient who was prepared for surgery, with the skull opened and part of the brain exposed to the air, was shown a picture of Jennifer Aniston. A specific pattern fired, showing recognition.

If this could be done without an invasive procedure, would it be possible to use it in the courts? Could you demonstrate that someone had never seen their alleged assault victim before?

Well, it’s much more complex than that, but that’s where it gets interesting.

I certainly couldn’t disagree with any of that sort of science. Where I would have other opinions is where Medina speculated.

That speculation is a lot of the fun of the book (and despite it being science-based, it’s very accessible to those without that background).

“What do these studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.

In many ways, starting over is what this book is all about.”

You can believe the science and not agree with all of the interpretations.

“Because a teacher can keep track of only so many minds, there must be a limit on the number of students in a class— the smaller, the better. It is possible that small class sizes predict better performance simply because the teacher can better keep track of where everybody is. This suggests that an advanced skill set in Theory of Mind predicts a good teacher.”

I’ve trained a lot of trainers, and been a Training Manager. In hiring, one of the things I looked for was what I referred to as “empathy”, and what Medina is calling “Theory of Mind”. It’s essentially the ability to know how someone else is reacting to something, and how they are going to react…and I include the ability to adjust what you are doing to modify that result.

However, I had good evidence that simply smaller didn’t produce consistently better results, as interpreted by the students (and by own subjective experience).

We had students rate the class at the end.

We were teaching mostly software, which can be pretty complex.

There was a definite bell curve. The best average scores occurred at about eight people. Get up to fifteen, there  was undeniable negative impact. Get down to two or three, though, and there was also a negative impact.

Why negative with a smaller group?

A class isn’t taught just between the trainer and each student. There are also dynamics happening between the students themselves, and in their perceptions of how the trainer interacts with the students.

If you have eight people in a class, and a student asks a question which is off topic or which has just been answered, a couple of other students are likely to be audibly irritated…just making a “Tch!” sound (and rolling their eyes), for example.

Unless the off topic student is completely socially unaware, that tends to inhibit those sorts of questions.

If you have two students, and someone asks an irrelevant question, the other person will expect the trainer to answer it.

The interactions between the two students are too exposed to allow the risk of the “Tch!”.

That’s just a small point, though.

Generally, I think most people will find the book very interesting, even if they can’t always put all the rules into practical effect.

One very positive use of technology is that the provides summary videos (and other materials) at

I was able to watch the videos on Kindle Fire, even using Silk (although I do have Flash installed, so I can’t tell you for sure if it would work without that).

A negative use of technology? A dead index. Not only were there no links from the index, but there were no page or location numbers…just a list of topics.

The biggest negative for me was an  unnecessary spoiling of a classic movie…but I know I’m extra careful about that.

I also found it a bit odd that the book didn’t summarize the twelve rules at the end, but those are available on the website.

Overall, though, I strongly recommend this book. It has value for you as an individual, as a parent/legal guardian, as an employee, and as an employer.

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

Round up #151: eye-tracking, pick the human quiz

March 5, 2013

Round up #151: eye-tracking, pick the human quiz

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

iReaderReview: “The Biggest Revolution in Books since Gutenberg & Inflection Points

This one is an interesting post by switch11 examining where we are in publishing. It talks about how readers now have the power, and how the compensation for curation (which is suggests is what publishers do) is currently much too high.

I recommend reading it, although I don’t agree with all the points. I don’t think it gives enough credit to what traditional publishers do…it’s not just about choosing which books to publish. There are a lot of other risks assumed by them, and tasks handled. That doesn’t mean authors can’t do it without them…clearly they can. That’s not a big problem with the piece, though, and it does have a lot of value.

I thought this was an interesting line:

“Established Authors are just as scared of the Barbarians at the Gate as Publishers and Retailers.”

Oh, and what is an inflection point? I thought this was somewhat of a weird use of it, but maybe I’m just not familiar with it as idiom. Let’s say you throw a ball up into the air in a big arc. The point between where it is going up and when it is coming down is the inflection point, as I understand it. I suppose the use here might be that we can now go either direction, or maybe that it is at the point of no return? Not sure…

Mini-review: Cop Hater

Cop Hater (87th Precinct)
by Ed McBain

The 87th Precinct books were published over about five decades…and there were more than fifty of them.

I’d never read one before. I’d certainly heard of them, and sold many as the manager of a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Why did I finally get around to it?

Amazon bought the backlist.

It publishes the books, and that means the books participate in Amazon publishing programs, including the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL).

The KOLL lets Kindle owners who are qualifying Prime members borrow up to a book a month at no additional cost. It’s always a tough choice as to what to borrow, but this seemed like a good bet.

We do read mysteries…I say “we”, because my Significant Other and I sometimes read the same books, thanks to the licensing from Amazon making that easy.

I’ve read some hard-boiled stuff over the years (Dashiell Hammett is a great writer, regardless of genre), and expected this to be like that.

I’d say one of the key differences is that this focuses on the process, rather than really on individuals.

It’s about being a cop…not about a specific cop.

Certainly, we have a hero that we follow, and whose personal life matters.

Still, you can see clearly how this has influenced “police procedurals”. We watched CSI during the Grissom years, and the  inspiration  is clear.

That doesn’t mean it was without precedent: McBain credited Dragnet as being something that influenced these stories.

Oh, that brings up a piece of advice from me: skip the foreword. We both felt like we would have enjoyed the book more without the scene setting.

We did both enjoy the book, although we didn’t fall in love with yet. It’s certainly possible I’ll read more in the series at some point.

I’d put it as this is worth reading.

Galaxy S IV to have eye-tracking?

I’ve really liked my Samsung Captivate, which I know isn’t entirely cutting edge.

On March 14th, Samsung will introduce the Galaxy S IV, and this

New York Times article

says it may have eye-tracking.

If so, that will be somewhat ahead of what I predicted in

The Year Ahead 2013

where I did predict eye and gesture tracking, but thought it wouldn’t arrive this year.

It has obvious advantages…your phone (or tablet, eventually) will be able to tell where you are looking on the screen. When you get to the bottom of a page, it can automatically show you the next one.

I run into that issue now with my Kindle Fire, when I am exercising in the morning. I have the Fire on top of the towel rack in the bathroom for some of it, getting my morning Flipboard read. I have to keep switching to the next page, or going back to an article selection screen, using my finger. It would be a lot better for the rhythm of the exercises if I could keep moving my arms the way I was, and just use my eyes to switch.

While some of you are immediately picturing problems, it’s going to depend on how smart it is. It has to understand the difference between when we flick ahead to see what is coming, and when we’ve really read everything up that point.

It may require some human training…pausing for a certain length of time, even looking at a “turn page” spot, but I think it would quickly become as subliminal as driving a car or riding a bike.

Of course, this could also be valuable for advertisers, if Samsung sold back to them information about where someone’s eyes went when reading a website…count on Google doing this in the future. ;)

The Real Character of the Wizard of Oz

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of the Oz books. I’ve written a piece about the real character of the Wizard of Oz, and how it might compare to what we will see in Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. If you are interested, it is here:

The Spoiler Zone: the real character of the Wizard of Oz

It’s part of “The Spoiler Zone” because I do reveal plot points in it…if you haven’t read the Oz stories yet, you might want to skip it until you have.

Racter would be proud

This one is a lot of fun, and a real challenge!

Machine translation or Faulkner?

It’s from a site called Reverent Entertainment that has a series of Reverent Quizzes.

For example, you can see if you can tell the difference between a painting done by an ape and one done by a human artist.

In this case, Mikhail Simkin gives you a series of quotations…and you decide if they are the result of machine translation, or written by William Faulkner.

I did take the test quickly, but I’ll admit it, I did terribly…42%.

It won’t surprise me if some of you do much better than that. :)

Racter, by the way, was an artificial intelligence program (although one can debate about that term) that wrote poetry. I’m happy to own a copy of

The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed: Computer Prose and Poetry by Racter- The First Book Ever Wrritten by a Computer

which is not currently available for the Kindle.

Does this mean that computer translation is getting so much better, or that maybe great works taken out of context don’t appear to be as great? Perhaps both… ;)

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

Review: Redshirts

February 18, 2013

Review: Redshirts

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
by John Scalzi
published by Tor (a Macmillan imprint)
original publication: 2012
size: 449KB (318 pages)
categories: fiction; science fiction
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six (but released without DRM?*)
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: good
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice:yes ($8.49 at time of writing, read by Wil Wheaton)

“I want you to think about what it means when I am the person in a group who is making the case for reality. I’m the least responsible person I know. I resent having to be the voice of reason. I resent it a lot.”

The human mind observes what is happening around it, and creates ways to deal with dangerous situations.

Imagine that you were a member of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original Star Trek series.

Would  you notice that there was something…odd about the ship?

Would people gossip about the fact that every time a “redshirt” (often a security team member, but it could be a different specialty…certainly, not a major decision maker) beams down with the bridge crew on an away mission, it becomes very likely that they are going to get killed?


That sounds like something that would be important to you, right?

That’s the basic concept that launches John Scalzi’s well-written and clever novel, Redshirts.

I’d heard it was a Star Trek parody, and expected absurdity and silly wordplay, like in a 1960s Mad Magazine issue.

The beginning of the book turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than that.

It’s not the Enterprise, exactly, but fairly close to it.

We follow a group of new recruits…as you can imagine, the ship has quite a bit of turnover. :)

Generally, I enjoyed this first part, and its commentary on the original series (how did Chekov keep healing so quickly?).

The characters with whom we relate are more than just cartoon characters (even including Star Trek: The Animated Series ;) ).

It’s also clear that Scalzi, President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, isn’t a poseur as a fan. While I thought the Dr. McCoy equivalent was quite flat and uninteresting (I’m guessing Bones is not one of Scalzi’s favorites), I was amused that the Doctor was named Hartnell (as in William Hartnell, the first actor to play Doctor Who in the TV series…The Doctor).

However, the book shifts in tone…more than once.

That could be innovative entertaining, and certainly, the book is highly-reviewed at Amazon (3.7 stars out of 5 with 364 reviews at the time of writing).

For me, though, that meant that what I thought was great in the first part, wasn’t quite as good in latter parts.

It’s important to note, though, that I have a sibling who enjoyed the second part better…and said the same was true of a friend.

I also want to be clear that I liked the whole book…I just liked the first part better. :)

As I was barely into it, I predicted to my Significant Other that it might turn out that way…that the tone would change. For me, it was a bit like a Saturday Night Live sketch that they make into a movie (Coneheads, for example). In a desire to give an expansion more length and depth, something that I find deliciously whimsical can become more…mundane, I suppose.

I do recommend the book, although if you weren’t a fan of ST:TOS, I don’t think it would work as well.

* DRM is Digital Rights Management, which is code inserted into a file to control how the file is used. Tor has been releasing their books DRM free in the Kindle store (an option also available to publishers using Kindle Direct Publishing). That means that nothing mechanically inhibits someone from converting the file into another format, for example. It does not change the nature of the license.

Fans of the original series may also enjoy my (very different from Scalzi’s book…different purposes) post,

Star Trek parody: The Kindle Encounter

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

Review: The Transparent Society

February 5, 2013

Review: The Transparent Society

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?
by David Brin
published by Basic Books
original publication: 1999
size: 913KB (545 pages)
categories: nonfiction; technology; civil rights liberties
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: generally good, but frequently references a couple of diagrams which are not read aloud
x-ray: no
Whispersync for Voice: no

“In all of history, we have found just one cure for error—a partial antidote against making and repeating grand, foolish mistakes, a remedy against self-deception. That antidote is criticism.”
–David Brin
writing in The Transparent Society

In this fascinating book, science fiction writer and futurist David Brin explores how the increased observational capabilities of technology may cause us to rethink personal privacy.

Early in the book, Brin has the reader consider two cities.

In both cities, there are cameras on every lamppost.

In one, those camera feeds go only to the police, who can see everything that is happening.

In the other, those camera feeds are available to every citizen.

Most likely, neither one would make you very comfortable.

Which would be better, though?

What if the “all access” city included feeds from inside the police station? So regular citizens can watch the police watching the videos, and see what they do about them?

While Brin essentially advocates for “reciprocal transparency” (people in power can watch people who aren’t…and vice versa), this is no polemic. Brin says:

“If it seems at times that I am fence straddling, that is because I do not claim to have all the answers. While this book makes strong contrarian points about general principles of freedom and accountabiliy, the details have been left somewhat murky, because that’s the way life is. Despite the simplifying rhetoric of idealists and ideologues, the process of finding pragmatic solutions will always be a messy one.”

While the book was written some time ago, many of the core concepts are still true…and the implementation isn’t all that different. The book is pre-YouTube, pre-Vine, pre-SmartPhones…but it posits a future in which every citizen is “armed” with a camera. It certainly doesn’t get everything right:

“Ponder an image of everyone sauntering down the street with one of these “weapons” on their hips. Naturally, one result is a near absence of street crime—that is a given.”

This presumes that people are inhibited from committing crimes by fear of exposure as the criminal. I remember seeing videos of bank robbers making sure their faces are seen by security cameras…as part of an initiation into a criminal group. The camera didn’t prevent the crime, and arguably, that specific crime is that specific place was committed to get on the camera.

That makes the book no less valuable, though. Thinking about how we will deal with universal knowledge of everything we do is important.

I thought one of the most thought-provoking parts of the book was peripheral (although related) to surveillance and privacy.

“The characters we find admirable in books and films often exhibit driven individualism and have difficulty accepting regimentation by formal organizations. They are irked by rules and routines, and above all display suspicion of authority. This archetype is copied in such endless profusion that the “lonely rebel” might by now have become the most dreadful of clichés. But in fact, it seems to have escaped the notice of most social observers that the principal moral lesson carried by neo-Western media is scorn for stodgy establishments of any stripe.”

The idea here is that people in our “neo-Western” society have been propagandized by media into believing that rebellion against the establishment is the way to succeed…and that the preponderance of this message is largely unprecedented.

I had to really think about that one.

Do so many of us think it’s good to be different because that is what our entertainment has been telling us?

We cheer when the lone hero disobeys orders…and saves the day.

Is it just, perhaps, because our society is freer somehow, and we are expressing what people have always felt? Or, does our society really feel  differently about this?

If you enjoy media from other cultures, you’ll know that this reverence of anti-authoritarianism isn’t universal. You’ll be able to come up with examples where the “hero” can only succeed by supporting the group and sublimating personal desires.

While we could discuss this for hours, it’s only one of the concepts in the book that will get you going.

Does it get too technical? Sure, I’d say there is a lot more discussion of encryption than some people will want.

I think the biggest flaw in the book for me, and this may be influenced by Brin being a scientist, is a feeling that once something has been explained, it doesn’t need to be explained again.

As a trainer, I can assure that’s not the case.

For example, there may be a matrix of possibilities shown (and unfortunately, not able to be read aloud by text-to-speech, which is how I consumed most of the book). Let’s say it went something like this:

  1. Cats who like cats
  2. Dogs who like dogs
  3. Cats who like dogs
  4. Dogs who like cats

Later, when Brin is referencing this list, the author doesn’t say, “So, in the case of dogs who like cats”, but will just say, “In point four…” That’s true even if we got the list five chapters ago. It would simply be better, in my opinion, to reiterate the relevant factors, rather than assuming that everybody has the sort of memory for diagrams and variables that many scientists do.

That doesn’t change me recommending the book, though. No, not everybody will enjoy it, but if you like to think about possible reactions to inevitable realities, this is one you should put on your list…whether everyone can see your list or not. ;)

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

Books on my Kindles #1

January 13, 2013

Books on my Kindles #1

I often mention here and in the Amazon Kindle forums that I only tend to keep about ten Kindle store books on any of my devices at any given time.

I know some people are surprised by that, because you can keep thousands (over 5,000 on a Kindle Fire), and Amazon has promoted the idea that you can have your whole library with you.

Well, this may be a bit old-fashioned, but I like to keep my devices lean. I do think they operate better and it speeds up searches (both done by the device and done by eye).

I have sometimes mentioned to you what I was reading before, but I’ve never done a “full reveal” like this, I think. :)

Part of that is because, well, what you read shapes people’s opinions of you. I have certainly in the past read controversial things that might color other people’s thoughts about me…both in good ways and bad ways.

I thought I’d go ahead and do it today, though.

This way, you might find something you’d like…there are lots of ways to discover something to read, and “Read any good books lately?” is a classic. In this case, I’m not going to keep it to good books…I’ll tell you about all of them. I am only counting Kindle store books, though…not magazines, not e-books from other sources. I’m also not going to count the dictionaries that came with the Kindle: I don’t browse through those (although I did read an unabridged dictionary cover to cover when I was a kid).

On Vulcan, my Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB

I do most of my reading on this device…thanks to text-to-speech in the car. I like Ivona, the TTS on the current generation of Fires: I think it’s quite superior to Vocalizer, the most recent one we have on the RSKs (Reflective Screen Kindles). I also read on Vulcan at other times…when I’m out waiting, at lunch, that sort of thing. I was surprised that I don’t find it uncomfortable to read on a backlit screen, but that is the case. It’s usually not for more than an hour or so at a time (when I’m sight-reading).

Here they are in “most recent” order:

The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success
by Kevin Dutton

This is the only sample I have right now, and I have finished it. It was recommended to me by a coworker: it’s a nonfiction look at qualities we could emulate in actual psychopaths. I’ve always figured that anyone who has made it to adulthood has something to teach you, and that all sorts of psychological conditions have benefits…in some circumstances. Something is a pathology to me when it hurts you most of the time, even if it helps you sometimes. Some psychopaths undeniably do some terrible things…but there are probably people who have some psychopathic elements who avoid doing those things…and then benefit from making decisions not based on emotions. I did find the sample interesting, but at $12.99, it’s more than I want to spend at this point (I have a lot to read). I don’t have a hard and fast rule about books over, say, $9.99, but I’m in no real hurry for this one. I listed it at

so I’ll get a free e-mail when it drops in price. That site is one of the most useful things for Kindle owners, by the way. I”ve written about it before, but if you are new to the blog, you might want to check out their myriad free services.

Counter-Clock World
by Philip K. Dick

I got this one when it was on sale, and it’s not going to be for everyone. Dick takes an idea and always puts interesting twists on it. In this case, time is running backwards, sort of. It’s on Earth, in the not too distant future. People, for example, are aging backwards…they are getting younger. There’s a whole industry around digging up people who have died and then come back to life in their graves…with government regulations around it. PKD makes it much more complicated than that, even though there are straight story elements in it as well. It has quite a bit to say about religion, and that certainly might discomfort some readers. I’ve been enjoying it, but I didn’t recommend it to my Significant Other, who would find it…contrived.

The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom?
by David Brin

I’d wanted to read this for a very long time, and got it as a holiday gift. I’m not all that far into it, but am finding it fascinating. It’s an exploration of privacy in the modern world. Even though it was first published more than ten years ago, it is still relevant). One of the great ideas in it: let’s say there were two towns. Both of them are equipped with small cameras on every lamp post that see everything. In one, the feeds just go to the police. In the other, anyone any time can tap into any of them. Which would make you feel safer? In the town where anyone can tap into what we would now call webcams, the police office also broadcast. You can see what they are doing with the feeds. I’m sure a lot of you feel like you would hate living in either town…but will you be able to avoid it? I recommend this one.

1,000 Comic Books You Must Read
by Tony Isabella

That’s my borrow from the Kindle Owmers’ Lending Library (KOLL) this month. It’s weird, I don’t usually read comic books, but I have read a couple of books about them. This one…well, it’s what is sometimes called a “seed catalog”. We see an image of the cover, and a brief summary. Isabella knows comics well, and there are some interesting choices…but it was frustrating not to actually be able to read them after I’ve been told I must by the cover. ;) I knew I wouldn’t be able to read them (although there are a lot of public domain comics out there…I’ve read a couple of them from The author also includes numerous comics that the author actually wrote. That’s fine, I guess, but 1,000 really doesn’t let you get too deep, and those are taking up some of the slots. There is an introduction for each decade that is covered, and Isabella doesn’t stick just to the big publishers, which is a good thing. Still, it’s unavoidably subjective. At $14.99, I wouldn’t recommend it to most people, but I did enjoy it.

How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage, Style, Women, and Cocktails Ever Written
by “Sterling Archer”

I also got this one on sale. I think the edgy spy spoof cartoon is one of the best series on television, but it can really offend some (most?) people. I suppose it would surprise many people who know me IRL (In Real Life) that I like it. For example, I don’t drink alcohol, and that’s certainly not the ethos of the show or book. The book, though, does a good job of catching the flavor of the show, and if you like the show, the book is worth reading. The conceit of it is that it is written by the main cartoon character, Sterling Archer, and the voice is definitely there. However, weirdly, we get actual recipes (both for food and alcoholic drinks), which slowed things down.

Strange Animals. An Atlas and History. 1800 to 1977
by George Mitrovic

This is a really strange book. It’s a great example of a case where I wish the author had just given it to someone who was literate to read before it was published. Anybody could have helped it a lot by proofreading it. There is this bizarre, non-consistent capitalization scheme, and the same paragraphs get repeated throughout the book. I can completely see it being a cult classic, though. It’s non-fiction, and has some very out there speculation in there. It also, though, has a good listing of many “paranormal” events (although so far, without source documentation). The writing, when you can decipher it through the lack of editing, can be fun. I got this one from the KOLL last month, and that worked just the way authors want it to work: I ended up buying it (both for myself and for a sibling). I wanted to finish reading it, and that was not going to happen in time to borrow a book in January, in my estimation.

The Science Fiction Megapack: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories

This one was also a gift, and I haven’t really started it yet. It’s a bunch of public domain titles, including some well-known authors (Ben Bova, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lester Del Rey). It would probably be my “emergency book”…I’ll dip into it from time to time. It’s currently priced at ninety-nine cents…you could probably find all these yourself for free, but it’s nice to have it packaged up for you.

The Complete 2013 User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle Fire
by Stephen Windwalker and Bruce Grubbs

I got this one as a freebie, and haven’t started it yet. I do plan to read it…Windwalker often has useful information and good insights.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas
by John Scalzi

Another gift (my family knows what makes me happy…books). ;) I’ve heard Scalzi being interviewed, and I’m excited to read this. It is in some ways a Star Trek parody. The Security Officers on the original Enterprise wore red (different branches wore different colors)…and it wasn’t a profession with a long life expectancy on the show. :) I made reference to that in my own Kindle-related Star Trek parody: The Kindle Encounter. I expect to start this one pretty soon.

Black Beauty
by Anne Sewell

This is the children’s classic and honestly, I don’t remember why I downloaded it. I might have been testing something. That doesn’t mean i won’t read it at some point, though.

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

See Black Beauty above. :)

Dawn (Xenogenesis Trilogy)
by Octavia E. Butler

Another one I got on sale. Butler is a controversial science fiction author, and I’m looking forward to it…I’ve enjoyed reading Butler before.

Action Comics (2011- ) #1
by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Rick Bryant

I wanted to test out the panel view for comics on my Fire, and I chose this one. It wasn’t bad,a nd while not written for children, it was nice to read a comic that wasn’t all angst. I would say a ten-year old could read this one. At ninety-nine cents, it’s a good one to use for the panel view test, if you want.

On Mindlelito Loveless, my Kindle

I really like my Kindle Paperwhite, but when I’m reading at home on an RSK, it’s on this one. That’s mostly just because I was already reading on it regularly, and didn’t want to switch. I do also read my Fire at home, so I only have one book I’m actively reading on this. I have some others on there I should clean up and remove, but I may dod something with some of them yet.

The one I’m actively reading is

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King
by Rich Cohen

Another gift (thanks, Amazon Wish Lists). ;) It’s a really interesting non-fiction work about Samuel Zemurray, an immigrant to America who made a fortune and revolutionized the use of bananas. I’m finding the writing to be…well, sort of like a pulp novel (I love those). Quite simply, it seems to me like the author is making up specific scenes and motivations. The story of Zemurray, though, is fascinating. It may be that there are enough interviews and such to justify those sort of Doc Savage-esque passages. At $12.99, I wouldn’t have bought it myself, but I am enjoying the read.

I’ve read these others on the device:

The Midwich Cuckoos
by John Wyndham

Classic science fiction, and I enjoyed it.

Make Room! Make Room! (RosettaBooks into Film)
by Harry Harrison

The basis for the movie Soylent Green, which I now think may have been the best movie adaptation ever. :) Everything I really remembered about the movie (which I rewatched after reading the book) isn’t in the original…but the original is also good and has elements not in the movie.

Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times
by Alice Duer Miller

I stumbled across this one when preparing Ten public domain freebies #3, and absolutely loved it. It’s snarky, political poetry…it seems very modern, with a real cutting edge. I can think of several folks on TV that would enjoy it.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

I like to keep this on my devices so I have something to demo for people who ask about the Kindle (although that happens a lot less often than it used to happen). It’s a good one for text-to-speech, for example, although the Mindle doesn’t have that. In fact, I should download it to Vulcan. It’s nice to have a book with which people can experiment without messing up where I am in it. :) I also like that they are almost always already familiar with it, so no spoilers while they practice.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1)
by J.K. Rowling

When I bought this from Pottermore, it downloaded to all of my devices, and I just never removed it. I don’t mind having it on there, though.

The Complete Wizard of Oz Collection
by L. Frank Baum

This one appears not to be available in the USA Kindle store any more, although there are a lot of alternatives. I never know when I may want to dip back into Oz…one of my favorite places to visit. :)

There you go…that’s all the Kindle store books actually on my devices right now. Feel free to let me know what you have (although if it’s thousands, you don’t need to list them all). ;) All of these, of course, do not block text-to-speech access. It’s not available on the comic book, but it isn’t blocked there…the TTS just can’t access the text in an image to speak it. I hope these lead you to some to sample, to enjoy, or to give as gifts.

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

Review: The Signal and the Noise

December 7, 2012

Review: The Signal and the Noise

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t
by Nate Silver
published by Penguin
original publication: 2012
size: 5576KB (545 pages)
categories: nonfiction; statistics; politics & current events
lending: no
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: no
text-to-speech: yes
suitability for text-to-speech: low, due to the number of illustrations
real page numbers: yes
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice: yes (read by Mike Chamberlain)

“My hope is that we might gain a little more insight into planning our futures and become a little less likely to repeat our mistakes.”

Is it possible to predict the future?

Sure…predict, after all, means to “pre-speak”. Anybody can say what the future is going to be…the question is, how accurate are they?

No question, Nate Silver is remarkably accurate…for the second Presidential election in a row, Nate has called all fifty states. In this last one, Silver’s also called almost every Congressional race.

However, this not a book about “how I did it”. It’s a book about prediction generally…yes, with advice, but there is as much caution about the limitations of the science, and the other inherent flaws (such as overconfidence) in the process, as there is endorsement of what Silver does. That’s refreshing, honestly.

There is little surprise here that pundits act like they are mad at Nate Silver. If the most probably answers can be derived objectively, it reduces the value of the supposedly superior individual. I think one of my favorites parts of the book was the analysis of pundits…and how getting things right didn’t tend to make one a more successful TV talker.

The book is also not just about politics, but about sports (especially baseball, an early success for Nate Silver), online poker, weather, earthquakes, and even terrorism.

Are you afraid of math? Well, the book is a bit mathy, although it’s written largely in a narrative style. There are a lot of graphs, with little explanation about how to interpret them. If you don’t know your Y axis from your X axis, that could be a problem.

Overall, though, this can be read by anybody, and there is sage advice here.

I don’t know that Silver is looking for any more challenges, but I’d love to see the statistician predict the movie box office for the summer. Like baseball, that’s a data rich environment. We have lots of stats about the people involved in movies (what their previous movies have done, what awards they’ve won, and so on), and there are many websites out there that both make predictions and solicit them from readers (giving some crowd sourcing for predictions). A lot of money is also riding on that, and it’s quite how profile. Just a suggestion…

Bottom line is that I recommend this one. We all make predictions every day: is that car going to change lanes? Do I need an umbrella? Will the boss come over to see if I’m getting my job done? Understanding the process by which we come to those estimates, and the alternative approaches out there, can be a real benefit…even if you don’t understand what every bubble chart means. ;)

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

Review: Casino Royale

November 12, 2012

Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming
published by Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon)
original publication: 1953 (this edition 2012)
size: 1719KB (189 pages)
categories: fiction; spy stories
lending: enabled
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
text-to-speech: yes
real page numbers: yes
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice: no

“‘I intend to continue attacking the sensitive parts of your body until you answer my question. I am without mercy and there will be no relenting. There is no one to stage a last-minute rescue and there is no possibility of escape for you. This is not a romantic adventure story in which the villain is finally routed and the hero is given a medal and marries the girl. Unfortunately these things don’t happen in real life.”
–“Le Chiffre”

Casino Royale was the book that introduced James Bond to the world, and you can see why it established a series.

The writing is clever and precise. You are drawn into a vibrant world, but not one without some very dark spots.

That’s one of the things I like best about this one. While I’m a fan of the movies, Casino Royale is probably much more philosophical than you think. There is an entire chapter entitled “The Nature of Evil”, and there is a great deal of discussion on the subject.

“‘You see,’ he said, still looking down at his bandages, ‘when one’s young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong, but as one gets older it becomes more difficult. At school it’s easy to pick out one’s own villains and heroes and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains.’”
–James Bond

“The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don’t give the poor chap a chance. There’s a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there’s no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography. His case has gone completely by default. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all its forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk-lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of the people who are least good, or our own intuition.”
–René Mathis

If the idea of James Bond questioning whether what he does is good or evil, even to the point of considering giving up the game seems shocking, it’s because it is the traumatic events in Casino Royale that shape his future character.

Yes, he is a Double O in this novel, licensed to kill (and he has done so), but it isn’t suggested that he is particularly good at it. This isn’t a superspy you would send after a madman in a volcano lair to take on two hundred henchmen. This is an agent with competent skills, and good luck at gambling.

He’s referred to as a “machine” for his dispassionate, businesslike approach.

Without getting into spoilers, that mindset is challenged by what happens.

It’s also important to say that Casino Royale is as much about the multinational nature of espionage and the plot as is about the character of Bond. The Americans and French are working with England, here, and there is naturally some inter-agency rivalry, but they all contribute to the effort.

I have to warn you that this is a violent book, although cruel might be a better word. There are many books nowadays that are more explicitly violent, but there is a scene here that passes most of them with its simple torture.

For modern sensibilities, I”m sure there are readers that would be troubled by Bond’s misogyny (not missing in the early movies). Bond says:

“Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.”

However, the book doesn’t say that’s the right way to be. Bond is given some advice:

“Mathis opened the door and stopped on the threshold. ‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’”

Overall, I’d say it isn’t for everyone, and isn’t intended to be. This world is harsh, and there are certainly adult (and disillusioned adults, at that) themes. However, I think you might find it is more human than you anticipate.

Note: this is a book where I found the X-Ray feature, available on some Kindles, particularly valuable. It gives you background on things mentioned in the book, and if you aren’t up on your Cold War details, it can be helpful. :)

You may also find my take on Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, interesting.

Feel free to tell my readers and me what you think about Casino Royale, but please try to avoid spoilers for people who haven’t yet read it.

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


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