Category Archives: Technology

Whispernet, indeed

I’ve worked in publishing. I’ve been a part of rights negotiations with writers. And I understand the Authors Guild point of protecting their right to sell the audio rights to their work. But Amazon backing off of text-to-speech on K2 feels a bit like bullshit.

It’s not like the text-to-speech feature is all that great. I’m certainly not getting rid of my Audible platinum subscription.

John Paczkowski quotes the Amazon press statement.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is.

Who really thinks selling audio rights to a spoken-word performance by a human is the same as having electronic rights include the mechanical reading of the digital text? Garumph.

(via DF)

Keys to the Kingdom

My Kindle arrived yesterday. First impressions were not quite up to the technolust I feel when opening a box “Designed by Apple in California,” but pretty darned good. Amazon has done a nice job with the packaging and merchandising here. I particularly appreciate that the Kindle arrives already linked to my Amazon account. It literally works right out of the box. This also makes it painfully easy to immediately start buying content. After all, I want to read more than just the user’s guide on this thing!

I can tell I’m really going to like the ability to download free samples/trials of books. This may be my saving grace in terms of how easy the Kindle makes dropping money on books (the process is seamless and there’s no physical consequence, like buying music on iTunes). If I can discipline myself to always only download the sample on impulse, my kids may still go to college.


I downloaded several sample chapters of books, but ultimately made a sentimental choice for first Kindle reading experience: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (I fell in love with reading science fiction reading the Foundation books, immersing myself in the story of Hari Seldon).

In short, the Kindle passed the test. I was able to read quite comfortably for about half an hour before sleep overtook me. In fact, I found reading in bed with the Kindle to be superior in some ways; the device is so lightweight that holding it for an extended period of time is inconsequential. I found myself using the left-hand page button more frequently than the right, and quickly got used to the keypress/read, keypress/read rhythm. Reading off of Kindle’s grayscale screen, and the notorious flash while the screen refreshes takes some getting used to, but didn’t seem to impose any additional eye strain.

So far it has been a little bit hard to get past the “dude, I’m reading this on a Kindle” effect, but if the writing is high quality I no longer have any doubt that the experience will be just as immersive as paper.

One interesting effect I’ve noticed is that I seem to read faster on the Kindle; indeed, on more than one occassion I’ve had to force myself to slow down to really absorb the text.

My initial theory on this is that my brain is trained to quickly skim on-screen text, and has not yet found the distinction between skimming Twitter or feeds on my monitor or iPhone and close reading or its equivalent on the Kindle. There seems to be a kind of built-in impatience with large blocks of screen type. We’ll see if that changes as I spend more time with it.

Whispernet, as in “barely there”

So far, I’ve found the Whispernet (Amazon’s brand for the slice of Sprint’s 3G network) to be remarkably spotty and slow. Several times in the first 24 hours, it has dropped off completely, even in areas where I get quite strong AT&T 3G speeds on the iPhone. I never thought 3G would feel quite so snappy on my iPhone until I started playing with the Basic Web browser on the Kindle.

Speed issues aside, it is nice to have a (pretty vanilla) web browser on this thing. First thing I did web-wise was to load up my Instapaper account — now I can literally access my to-read pile of web articles from any device. Snazzy. And I’m not sure why I should pay Amazon to deliver blogs to me when Reader appears to work serviceablely well.

A Start

I’m sure there will be more thoughts to come, but I didn’t want to let the first 24 hours of this new adventure go by without some initial thoughts. I’m excited, and am even more convinced that the Kindle is paving the leading edge of how reading will increasingly happen.

Cooking: humanity’s ‘killer app’”?

As reported in The Economist, Harvard’s Richard Wrangham has a theory that “cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s ‘killer app’”:

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.

(Hat tip to Alisa for the link on FB)

Good perspective on the Kindle

Molly Wood nicely expresses some of the same thoughts I’ve had on the Kindle (which is now due to arrive in just 5 days!):

I’m not going to argue that the Kindle is any kind of a bargain. It’s an expensive device that performs limited functions. if you’re not passionate about its value proposition—reading books, magazines, newspapers, and other documents on the go and buying new content anytime the impulse arises, saving space, and helping out the environment by easing demand for paper—it’s easy to decide not to buy the Kindle. That’s the very definition of a luxury device, or at least an elective gadget. On the other hand, almost anyone would covet an iPod Touch, but few can afford it. Kick up a fuss about that The Kindle 2 is a niche device, and it shouldn’t have to apologize for that fact. It doesn’t have to apologize to me, anyway. I’m an early adopter of second-generation hardware, I read almost constantly I’ll buy 60 books within a year or two, max, and I’ve been saving up. I pre-ordered mine today

excerpt from The Amazon Kindle: no, it’s NOT too expensive | The Molly.

A bucket is for carrying things somewhere, not storage

Twitterman Alex Payne wrote a pretty interesting an provocative post the other day, titled “The Case Against Everything Buckets.”

Rather than try to recreate his argument for him, go read it yourself. I’ll wait here.

At least in principle, I agree with Alex’s assertion that it can be immensely better to have your information available in an app that actually can do something with it. Nine times out of ten I prefer not to have information in any app at all, I like most of my stuff in the Finder where it is easily backed up, found, and mashed into other places. Preferably in plain text. Yes, I’m one of those people who buys $2,000 computers and prefers to work in the oldest and simplest data format in existence.

But I digress. I think Al3x is missing an angle in his implied assertion that Everything Buckets don’t do anything particularly well.

I think the value of Everything Bucket software, and in particular of Everything Bucket software that is either cloud-based or syncs nicely between desktop and mobile clients, is that these applications open your mind to the notion of ubiquitous capture.

And after all, you use a bucket for temporary storage, right? It’s a waystation.

I freely shove stuff into Evernote, Instapaper, and Everything Buckets because it’s so easy to do. The secret sauce that keeps it from becoming A Bad Thing is that I’ve built in a routine to go through them regularly, processing them David-Allen-style down to zero. It’s at that point that I’ll move data into another environment if it makes sense.

For example, I’ll see a link in Google Reader, scan it for interest, identify that I might want to use the idea in a story someday, and clip it to Evernote. Then at some regular interval I’ll pull the PDF out of that Evernote inbox and into the Finder as a PDF or webarchive in a directory structure like “Story Ideas/2009/…”

The only stuff I keep in Evernote full-time is stuff I know I’d like to have reference to no matter were I am—be it on my Macbook, on my iPhone, or on my work PC.

Not really rocket science, and YMMV. The point is, as always, pare down the number of places something can be, and put it somewhere where it should be. Those definitions of can and should are yours to make.

Update 2009-02-10: Here’s Buzz Andersen’s take on it.

Prettify yer beige

I used to spend a lot of time customizing the appearance of my Mac. Tweaking desktops, icons, themes, everything. Now that I’m all grown up, I spend my time customizing the functionality of my Mac. It’s beautiful enough on its own.

But every once in awhile I still get the bug to inject a little more visual personality. From now on, I’m going to turn to Prettify. They’re doing a nice job picking out the best stuff from around the web.

Prettify — Nice icons and wallpapers.