Round up #301: the value of reading, literate robots

Round up #301: the value of reading, literate robots

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

I finished The Martian

Thank you to everyone who participated in

Pick my read #1

I asked my readers to suggest a book for me to read. I then took those suggestions (well, the ones which fit my criteria…see the link above) and polled my readers as to which one I should read.

The winner was

The Martian (at AmazonSmile*)
by Andy Weir

Well, I just finished reading it. 🙂

When I’ve polled my readers about what they like in this blog before, my writing reviews wasn’t high on the list…I’ll probably review it on


Regardless of what I thought of it, I had a lot of fun having you pick my read! I’ll probably do that again at some point…although it did result in me spending more for a book than I typically do. That’s in part because we have

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

and I feel like it is only good use of our money to try to read things from there first (as well as books I already own and haven’t read yet…and gifts, of course).

To thank Dave, who had suggested it, I let him pick any other book in the poll which I would then gift to Dave.

The choice was

The Milagro Beanfield War (at AmazonSmile*)
by John Nichols, illustrated by Rini Templeton

I could do this polling thing every month if I limited it to KU…I’d rather not do that. Maybe sometimes I’ll limit to KU, sometimes not.

Thanks again!

Copyright for Literate Robots

I’ve started reading a fascinating paper (well, PDF) by James Grimmelann

Copyright for Literate Robots

It argues that non-humans reading books under copyright are not infringing on that copyright. That may become increasingly important as artificial intelligence systems read. This wouldn’t have been a copyright issue, but IBM’s Watson, as I recall, read everything (or a lot of stuff) in Project Gutenberg.

By the way, I had quite a long discussion with a relative recently about artificial intelligence (or more specifically, learning systems). I was told by people that I had done a good job explaining it.

Essentially, this very smart relative with a lot of programming background did not think that the way people were talking about learning systems was possible…that a human would have to program every step of the way.

I think part of that issue arose because of not thinking of having thousands of programs running at once (which is now possible).

I think where some people have a fear of AI and learning systems comes from not understanding how they work.

The main point is that they don’t set their “goals” themselves. You set a goal, and the closer they get to that goal, the more they tend to repeat the behavior that was successful.

Let’s say you have 100 program running at once. You don’t know the details of each program, just that they are supposed to run a mathematical formula.

What you want is to get a percentage.

So, you start out by asking a question to which you know the answer…let’s ask for the percentage that two is of five (40%).

The 100 of them give you an answer, and 30 of them got the answer you wanted.

You tell the system which ones were right.

The system pays more attention to those, as you ask repeated percentage questions.

Maybe the next time, 20 of those thirty get it right…but so did five of the seventy which were wrong on the first one.

You repeat this with, oh, fifty questions.

By the end of fifty questions, we’ve identified a core group of ten programs which have gotten every percentage right.

Now, we feel comfortable asking those ten programs percentage questions.

That’s pretty much it. 🙂

Of course, you can add mutation into it. The programs get changed a small amount from time to time…that may result in a program having a new way to get percentages which is perhaps faster.

We never need to understand the programming step by step for our “neural network” to become valuable to us.

Similarly, you could have programs write, oh, haiku.

With enough programs trying enough ways to combine things, and with a human evalution system, we could probably eventually develop a neural net that would produce decent haiku.

I know, I know, I’ve really simplified it. One of the main points, though, is that the computers don’t set their own goals.

Go Set a Watchman

The first time publication of Harper Lee’s

Go Set a Watchman (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

can be pre-ordered for July 14th in the USA (the day before “Prime Day”).

It has been blowing up the sales…and blowing minds. 😉

It is the #1 paid book in the USA Kindle store right now!

Not bad for a book more than half a century old!

Reactions to the first chapter, which you can read now, have been…interesting. People have to remember when it was written (if you are judging it by today’s standards, you may be surprised), and that this book was apparently massively re-written to create

To Kill a Mockingbird (at AmazonSmile)

It’s possible this will be the biggest e-book of the year.

Look for major price wars…and Amazon’s Prime Day is the day after its release.

Prime Day

Speaking of

July 15th is “Prime Day”: will there be deals on Kindles?

one of my regular readers and commenters, Lady Galaxy, shared a possibly valuable piece of advice from a local consumer reporter. It was suggested that you put everything you want to track on an Amazon Wish List. It’s true that when you look at your Wish List, you can see if prices have changed…but I’m not sure how quickly that updates. If there is a lightning sale for ten minutes, for example, is that enough time for the price change to appear on the Wish List? Not sure…

Infographic on the value of reading

One of the great blogs out there on e-books (and reading generally) is EBOOK FRIENDLY. In this

post by Ola Kowalczyk

It has an infographic of things that probably every reader of this blog knows intuitively, but it’s nice to have data and specifics (although I don’t see the sourcing).

Just one: the average American reads one book a year: CEOs of Fortune 500 companies read 4-5 books a month.

“First Click: Amazon, not Apple or Google, holds the key to the smart home”

I still find many people who don’t know what the

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


I think this will be one of the most significant tech stories of the year.

It does tie into books. In fact, I’m listening to my Echo read Dracula right now…an audiobook, read by (among others), Alan Cumming and Tim Curry.

Some of my readers might be surprised that I’m listening to an audiobook, given my preference for text-to-speech. However, I have also said that I don’t like to listen to audiobooks…unless I have read the book before, which is the case here. This, for me, is like seeing a movie of a book. I just don’t like the reader (whether the author or an actor) interpreting characters for me. If I’ve already read it, that’s different.

Here is an interesting

The Verge article by Thomas Ricker

that gets it.

It’s focus is on home automation and the Echo (which is a big deal for a relative of mine with physical challenges), but it has many other uses.

I’m still waiting for it to be able to read me books through text-to-speech (I would watch a lot less television if that was available), but I think we are still in the very beginnings of the capabilities.

The Echo has been opened up for developers, and we’ll see all sorts of amazing things from that before the end of the year, I think.

I recommend the site

for staying on top of Echo developments…particularly, since the author of the blog, April L. Hamilton, is actually developing for it!

This post, in particular

Echo Apps & Skills Are Coming

talks about it from the developer’s point of view…and what’s up with what’s coming (in a general way).


YouTube video

shows an Echo playing 20 Questions…

Let me give you another example of using it in a book-related way.

I can ask it, “What is so-and-so’s latest book?”

It worked for Harper Lee and Stephen King…but not Loren Coleman or Bufo Calvin. 😉

You can also say, “Alexa, Wikipedia [author’s name]” to get information. After it reads a brief bit, you can say, “Alexa, tell me more” to get it to keep reading.

You can do that with pretty much anything Wikipedia has…that should work for Loren Coleman, but since there isn’t a page for me, it won’t work for me.

Similarly, you could Wikipedia a book or a character.

Hm…I wonder when they will tie it into Goodreads and/or Shelfari (Amazon owns both)?

50 Kindle Books for $2 each

This is apparently now a monthly features, since it says, “Deals are valid through the last day of each month.”

50 Kindle Book Deals for $2 Each (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

There are always bargains on books at Amazon!

5 reasons to wish Amazon an unhappy birthday

I may love my Kindle, and think (as both an author and a reader) that Amazon has brought positive things to the world of literature, but not everyone agrees.

You might find this

Salon post by Scott Timberg


What do you think? Amazon…hero, villain, or some of each? Do you buy bargain books at Amazon…or do you only get free ones and more expensive ones (the latter when you especially want the book)? Are you looking forward to Go Set a Watchman…or are you afraid that it might change your relationship with To Kill a Mockingbird? Feel free to tell me and my readers what yu think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands 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.

2 Responses to “Round up #301: the value of reading, literate robots”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Since this is a roundup, I suppose it’s ok to ask a sort of off topic question. I know when you put links to Amazon products you put a link for both the standard AZ page and the Amazon Smile page. I frequently buy Kindle book directly from my Kindle. Now I’m wondering if those purchases get linked to Amazon Smile or not. Is there some place in my Kindle settings where I could or should make sure that they do?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      It’s always okay to ask an off topic question. 🙂

      I’m very happy that Amazon has the Smile program, and I do try to support it. That’s why I do both links, even though that does add some work for me.

      However, Amazon could, I think, support it more robustly.

      I don’t know of a way to set your Kindle to shop through Smile, as you mention.

      Amazon Associates also have a way to automatically create a link to a page on…but not on Smile.

      Someone might suspect those “bean counters” you mentioned in another context of doing this on purpose so that Amazon donates less money…but I’m guessing that they just haven’t devoted the resources to it.

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