Monday, February 28, 2011

Me and My Kindle 3: The first month

I treated myself to a Kindle in December, and I started using just over a month ago. I’ve decided that it’s the future of book-reading, and if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you why.

First things first - I'm talking about the Kindle 3G here. The choice of Wi-Fi-only for $139 or the worldwide 3G model for an extra $50 was made for me by the experiences I’ve had of struggling to kill a few hours in various airports around the world. Buying a few hours of Wi-Fi access would cost $50 alone, so I was obligated to buy it.

Why It's Great:

Being able to buy a book at any time is fantastic - often I'll be listening to a podcast with a very interesting person flogging a book. Regardless of where I am, I can download a free sample to the Kindle, and if it makes the cut, I can purchase the whole thing in a few seconds.

This thing reads me bedtime stories. One night my eyes were too sore to focus on reading, but I wanted to get Flim-Flam finished by the end of the week, so I lay back in bed and had it read me a few chapters in a serviceable monotone. (Sadly, some publishers choose to disable this handy feature.)

The (official) case I have has a built in light powered from the Kindle itself, so I can read in the dark. This beats a 'real' book and booklight combo, which I've always found unwieldy. This thing gives good light coverage and doesn't disturb bedmates. At $60, it's quite expensive, but I think the quality and convenience is just about worth it.
Your intrepid blogger, handmodelling in the dark
'Kindle' isn't just an e-book reader - the mobile phone and computer applications are almost as much of an attraction as the device itself. Reading the books on the device is wonderful, but the ability to pick up reading from the last read page on my phone or Mac and have the highlights and notes transfer over might prompt the same revelation in you as it did in me: this is much better than the dead-tree system of old.
Speaking of notes, I could rarely bring myself to besmirch my printed books, but now I've a load of highlighted passages and statistics in my favorite books, available from any device the Kindle app runs on. Neat.
Also, turning real pages sucks. Pressing a button to make new text appear is so much easier. You like watching the 'read' side of the book grow as you near the final pages? Fear not, the % Complete at the bottom of the screen will soothe your soul.
What's not so great:
Luddites try to ruin this for me. A few people (intelligent, charming, progressive people) tut when they hear I'm using the Kindle. Words like 'Orwellian' are used ambiguously, possibly to describe the fuzzy ownership rights of the books (and Amazon did make a major screw up before when they 'recalled' 1984 from users' virtual bookshelves). To address this simply: the Kindle is not a locked down system. It's very easy to find copies of books not available on the Kindle store and read them on the device. When you pirate books (and I have pirated copies of books I own for the sake of science), you lose many of the conveniences that 'owning' the book bestows, but it makes me feel safe that my device won't be worthless if Amazon ever decides to abuse its users (which isn't good for business, so I don't see it happening). Give me a better reason to hate eBook Readers.
Some reasons to hate it:
It's an electronic device, so you have to charge it. I can still taste the disappointment of going to bed expecting to read until I fell asleep, only to find an empty battery logo when I picked up my Kindle. It felt like somebody had taken my new favorite book and whited out all the pages.

It's an electronic device, so I won't be able to read on it during take off and landing.

The Kindle for Mac app in action. Good when I'm waiting for a process to finish and I've a few minutes to kill

The audio playback is terrible. Just because a feature is labelled 'experimental' doesn't justify it being utterly wretched. With no graphical user interface, users have to press memorized keyboard shortcuts to play and skip songs. Want to pause a podcast and finish it later? Tough shit, it won't remember where you were. Want to skip ahead a few seconds at at time until you find your spot again? Tough shit, that feature doesn't exist. This effort is so offensive I think I'd be happier without it.

It's an electronic, internet-connected device, but Amazon stubbornly refuse to (significantly) update the software, instead making users upgrade to the latest model to avail of new features. This particularly stings when considering the commendable work that Barnes & Noble have done with their Nook.

This thing doesn't do colour, which is a shame, but not terribly important for my reading preferences. If I come across a diagram that warrants the hassle, I can view it on my phone or computer's Kindle app.

This thing doesn't do RSS feeds, which is unforgivable. You can subscribe to magazines and newspapers for a fee, but years of internet use have taught me not to pay for what I can obtain for free. There are some hacks and workarounds out there that I'm going to look into, so updated impressions will follow down the line.

Also, you can't share the books. Some publishers let you 'loan' your license to someone for two weeks, but you can only do this once per book. For two weeks. On very few books. What a load of cock. I'm optimistic that market forces will force Amazon/publishers to reconsider.

So how long will this device last?

It's hard to say what it would take for this particular Kindle model to be made obsolete. It doesn't need to compete in any arms races in terms of specs, since displaying text expediently is about the only thing users expect this to do, and it already does this very well (I reckon the virtual page-turn takes about as long as a real one). Even if Amazon released one with a more traditional tablet design, replete with multimedia features, the Kindle 3 would still be relevant as a reading device with no extraneous distractions.

My experiences with my Kindle over the past month have made me believe that eBook readers are here to stay, and I can foresee continuing to use it every day until the battery craps out or I forget to take it out of the seat-pocket on an aeroplane. There's a lot that I haven't touched on - in two weeks I'll be going on a trip with this thing, so I'll get a chance to use it in a less controlled environment, and if there's anything worth reporting, you'll see it here. In the meantime, I would recommend this to everybody who likes to read and is willing to spend money on their hobby. My dear ladyfriend gives herself a hernia with all the tomes she piles into her backpack when she's travelling, so this device might spare her some back trouble (and spare her from buying me any more massage books on the Kindle store).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

While I'm ragging on independents...

One of the independent candidates running in yesterday's election certainly has his act together when compared with the less accomplished lunatics also vying for election to the Dáil.

He has a website! He has proof of a previous leadership role! He has posters! He has laid out his policies. He even has an election-anthem:

Why should you vote for Dillon? Cos Dillon's gonna win! The song even says it!

One fateful night, he called to my mother's door at dinnertime. I told him I didn't want to stay long, and he gave me his five second pitch and shook my hand. Decent chap. I liked him. He gave me a flyer:

Neat! An independent who doesn't openly display an easily-diagnosed mental illness! Let's have a look here...

"" Sorry John, you just got bumped to #2.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vote Cretin with a Webcam No.1

Facebook throws up some woefully inappropriate ads sometimes, and I begrudge them for it, but every now and again, it only gets them slightly wrong. Like when it implored me to "Vote for Mike Deegan". Alas, he's asking to be elected "as your TD for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown".

I don't get a vote in that constituency, but I am curious to see what motivates this independent candidate, so I decided to stick around and see if he's really "NOT more of the same", as his Facebook page insists.

The Facebook page started on February 2nd. Since then there have been a grand total of ten posts by Mike Deegan. He has 31 'likes' at the time of writing, and two of the three posts by visitors consist of someone who (ostensibly) loaned him the tie in his profile picture, and another with the same surname. Of the ten posts, six of them consist of the same two YouTube videos posted and reposted. One of the four remaining posts explains his modus operandi:
"I am running my campaign as did Obama using the internet and personal interactions without environmentally damaging printed material."
This is hugely commendable! An online-only campaign! So where's the rest of the information? Well, there's no website, so the Facebook page is the only information repository. Since I want to know about this would-be public servant, I suppose I'll have a look at the first of his two videos, which serves as a de-facto manifesto.

A middle-aged, somewhat dishevelled man is sitting in a badly lit room. He speaks slowly with a distracted affect, punctuating his sentences with long 'em's and sighs. It's a bad first impression. But let's not discount him yet. He could be the future of Irish politics!

Click here to watch it for yourself (or just read on and avoid the hassle)
He didn't really hook me with the opening salvo:
"This video is me, talking to you. Telling you that much as I don't really want to, I will be running for the Dáil in the next general election."
Okay, the begrudging public servant. It's an angle that could work! Do go on.
"People say "Mike are you crazy?" Perhaps I am"
At least he's not saying anything so far that the audience can disagree with. But why is he going to all this trouble?
"For me. For my family. For my parents, my child. For the future and the current state of Ireland."
Inspiring stuff. He's a patriotic family man who will stand up because nobody else will. I'm on board. But others won't be won over so quickly. Why should we vote for you?
"If you want to vote for me, vote for me. If you don't, don't. That's how it works, isn't it?"
I take it back. Mike, you're insane. Such banal lessons on the democratic process have led me to realize that I'm eighty-five seconds into a rambling YouTube video from some mentally unstable internet-addict.

I may as well sit here for the next three minutes and see what other verbal diarrhoea spills forth:
"I'm not going to be putting my poster on every lampost in the neighbourhood or anything like that. No. I'm not going to be doing that."
Making your total lack of a budget sound like a virtue isn't particularly effective Mike, can we please get onto the policy stuff?
"Hmmmmmmmmm... What else should I say? What am I pushing? Well, older people is a major thing for me. One day, I will be older, just like you, and I want to address the way we treat older people in Irish society. The disabled also come in under a - connected, similar remit of how they are treated in our society."
Finally! But these statements are a bit vague. What exactly does he mean? And what does he propose we should do about it?
"And then onto the wider picture."
Mike, don't you think that you should finish your thought on the disabled and "older" people, (whatever that means exactly) you didn't even go into --
Well, jobs. Absolutely. Of course. Jobs. There's so much to talk about. Job creation. It's difficult to know where to start... The government [says] that whatever has to be done to create jobs has to be done. And I would agree"
Hang on. You've said nothing at all here. And you agree with the government that you're railing against? I don't think that you have any original ideas in your head whatsoever. I think you're just some cretin with a webcam who is jumping on the bandwagon of exasperated people who are fed up with the current government, even though they have no better ideas of how to address the problems Ireland is currently facing themselves.
"Aaaaaahhh further to that. The environment. Some call it climate change, some say it's not climate change." 
Yeah, that's right Mike, the discord surrounding climate change rev the nomenclature.
Whatever it is, it's happening. It's affecting our world. It's affecting everybody. We have big problems with delivering potable drinking water to large parts of the world. We have difficulty providing food to large parts of the world. we are burning too much fuel to power our - everything, and an alterative needs to be arrived at... Discovered."
What the hell? You're running for TD in FUCKING IRELAND. If a major Irish industry consisted of "delivering potable drinking water to large parts of the world", maybe this would make sense, but it doesn't. And your magic-bullet solution to environmental trouble is "discovering" an alternative to burning fossil fuels? Shouldn't you be doing that now instead of nattering into a camera?

Let's have a quick look at what else he's been posting:

Good. Fucking. God. Mike got drunk for his birthday. Now he's making birthday resolutions. He's going to turn his life around. But first he'll go to the city. But he can't remember why. What a tard.

You goddamn ignoramus. How dare you waste my time by populating my web-browser with your Facebook ads. How dare you waste Google's bandwidth with your rambling, hollow pontifications. Yes, jobs are important. So is the environment. If you had something worthwhile to say about it, you would've said something tangible, but you didn't. It's commendable that you're putting yourself out there for your principles, but you've completely failed to show what they are exactly. Instead of making a positive impact on Irish politics, you've just wasted ten minutes I could have spent researching some credible candidates. This pitiful pageant of quixotic balderdash leads me to believe that you're just some manic-depressive desperately trying to give his life some meaning.
"That is basically me."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Only In America"

I have a habit of taking pictures of peculiar things that I happen across in my everyday life. Sometimes they get used on the blog, sometimes they sit on the computer for months until I decide to do a photo-dump.

What I'm posting now are some oddities encountered whilst on (United States of) American soil, in no particular order at all.

Commencing dump...

Sign reads "Experience Church Online!" Man - that exclamation point almost caught me out. 
Gum Tree at Grand Canyon. Someone put their gum on it, then dozens followed suit. Gross. But kinda neat.
Bear-proof bins at the Grand Canyon

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"Leanaí cúthail agus milseáin"

Last week, I shared a story about getting a pizza with erroneous cooking instructions and the ensuing consequences.

When my compensatory pizza carried the same typographical error on the packaging, it seems that I forgot everything that I had learnt from my first experience, leading to another ruined evening.

I immediately whinged to customer care. The gist of my e-mail was as follows:

Dear Professor Oetker,
My pizza told me to cook it at ninety degrees. My oven only goes as low as 110. Undeterred, I set the oven to where 90 degrees looked to be and left the pizza for 25 minutes.
I'm not even sure if the oven turned on, but either way, the pizza was ruined, and my girlfriend was so pissed at me that she wouldn't put out.
Understandably, this has ruined my life, and I demand compensation for my lack of intelligence.
Kind regards, 
Things didn't quite go the same as last time. There was no immediate reply. Four business days was all it took for the hoard of vouchers to arrive last time, and that time had already passed. I had given up hope until the fifth day, when the good Doctor had returned my letter.

It was pretty standard fare, but the gist of it was:
Dear Sully, 
Thank you for your vaguely plausible story about a simple packaging error causing your entire life to crumble around you and forcing you into celibacy. Please accept this voucher for free pizza as a reward for successfully typing our e-mail address into the To field of your bullshit e-mail.
We hope it will be the first step towards you turning your life around, a life that surely revolves around eating junk-food and finding things to complain about. 
Your specious complaint will be kept on file, and any further specious complaints will be checked against your name and address to dissuade you from bullshitting us again.
Wishing you'd get off the couch and go fuck yourself,
Alphonus P. Oetker, PHD. 

My experiences of dealing with customer service has reminded me of that old Irish saying: "The shy baby gets no sweets, but the aggravating son of a bitch gets free pizza". (It loses something in the translation).

I'm four pizzas up from two e-mails (only one of which I sent myself). Do any readers have any experiences of whinging at customer service over minor infractions in the hopes of scoring free stuff?