Comments from all over (Virtual Kindle Style)

When the blog was the only out­let for typed thoughts and shared com­ments, every­thing got posted here (or, tech­ni­call, over at LiveJournal, as that was my blog long, long before I moved it here.) Now that we have Twitter and Facebook and what­not, those thoughts get scat­tered through­out the inter­nets. In an effort to graft some of them back to net­ninja, I will attempt to sum­ma­rize and/or expand upon some inter­est­ing recent tweets, com­ments on oth­ers’ blogs, and what­not.

Kindle

I recently ordered a Kindle DX from Amazon. That and the fancy new iPhone 3GS were at the top of my gad­get wish list, but with AT&T’s “you pay an extra $200 because you are an early adopter” tax, I fig­ure my exist­ing iPhone 3G is fine for the 6 months it takes for that tax to become zero. In fact, 6 months after that, the new-new iPhone is likely to be released. If I am forc­ing myself to wait 6 months, I may as well wait another to get the good stuff.

So any­way, back to the Kindle. I have a grow­ing col­lec­tion of PDF books, mainly due to O’Reilly’s Rough Cuts series of tech­ni­cal books. And since the entirety of out­put on Mac OS X is PDF under the hood, it is an even more com­pelling file for­mat. At work, I have chip datasheets to read and end user doc­u­men­ta­tion to edit and approve, all in PDF for­mat. A few of the datasheets are pass­word pro­tected, which the Kindle does not do, but Elcomsoft makes a handy lit­tle app to deal with that.

The whole thing is a lit­tle weird. A year ago, even six months ago, I was very much against the Kindle. I am still a lit­tle on the fence regard­ing DRM and the inabil­ity to lend books to friends, but the PDF sup­port of the DX has tem­pered that a lot. It does read other ebook for­mats, unen­cum­bered by dig­i­tal restric­tions, and there are a num­ber of other stores (obvi­ously, not as inte­grated into the Kindle’s sys­tem to instantly buy and down­load books) with­out DRM. But over­all, it is the size and con­ve­nience that won me over. For exam­ple, I would read much more P.G. Wodehouse if I did not have to carry around the 700 page tome I have (cast­ing aside the awk­ward real­ity that it is not one of the titles cur­rently offered in Kindle for­mat yet.)

Some titles are unlikely to make good Kindle books. For instance, I can­not see read­ing some­thing as dense as Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach on a Kindle. Certain titles are impor­tant enough to me that I will really want a paper edi­tion. For the vast major­ity of plea­sure read­ing, though, I can totally see using the Kindle. For the tech­ni­cal top­ics that are so cutting-edge as to no have paper books yet, there is no choice but dig­i­tal text. Long, long, ago I used to read “pulp” scifi and mys­tery mag­a­zines. Buying them at book­stores was a lit­tle incon­ve­nient, as they were often dif­fi­cult to find. The sub­scrip­tion thing does not always work for me for mag­a­zines of any kind — they pile up unread. If I actively pur­chase a sin­gle issue, the odds of it get­ting read are much, much higher than if I pas­sively receive issues through a sub­scrip­tion. I am not sure I under­stand it, but have read that there is a very sim­i­lar psy­cho­log­i­cal effect with going to the gym — I guess you value the ses­sions more and are more likely to use them if you pay for them indi­vid­u­ally ver­sus hav­ing an unlim­ited monthly mem­ber­ship. The unlim­ited mem­ber­ship makes more finan­cial sense, but does not psy­cho­log­i­cally work for some peo­ple. Anyway, some of those pulp mag­a­zines (Asimov, Analog, Hitchcock) are still around and avail­able on the Kindle and I expect to pick up a few on occa­sion.

As I said, I ordered the Kindle. They sent me the leather cover, but the Kindle itself is on back­o­rder for up to a month. I received the cover yes­ter­day, so for the next few weeks, I get to play “The Emperor’s New Clothes Kindle.”

Because of this XKCD comic, my first book pur­chase was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is rather appro­pri­ate, con­sid­er­ing the Kindle con­tains a free cel­lu­lar modem and links up with Wikipedia. Confession: I have never actu­ally owned H2G2. The sev­eral times I read it, it was bor­rowed from the library. Since then I have relived it through audio­book, two dif­fer­ent radio­plays, a British movie/miniseries, and the recent movie. It is about time I got back to the source mate­r­ial. Another side note: the iPhone Kindle reader is actu­ally quite nice and has allowed me to start re-reading H2G2. The auto­matic sync­ing is a hot fea­ture, which will allow me to pick up where I left of, regard­less of which device I am cur­rently using to read.

Because I am a tin­kerer at heart, I have already started research­ing hack­ing the Kindle. It is Linux based, runs the U-Boot boot loader, has a debug ser­ial con­sole (requir­ing TTL level con­ver­sion, unfor­tu­nately, so I will have to build/find an adapter), and the user inter­face is reverse-engineerable Java. It actu­ally does not seem like that com­plex of a device, hon­estly. It is cer­tainly sim­ple in com­par­i­son to the embed­ded Linux devices I design at work.

Style

In keep­ing with the book theme — in case you were won­der­ing, The Elements of Style is avail­able in audio­book for­mat. WTF? This is a book with infor­ma­tion and exam­ples about the usage of apos­tro­phes, com­mas, and vs. amper­sand, colons and semi­colons, and con­tains a large list of com­monly mis­used terms. Something tells me that the exam­ples prob­a­bly get lost in the nar­ra­tion, or per­haps the nar­ra­tion is extremely dry.

Virtuality

Due to a few tweets and blog posts about Virtuality, a tele­vi­sion pilot that Fox paid for but for which nobody picked up the rest of the series, I had to give it a try. Oh, man, was this a great open­ing episode (or now, I guess we have to call it a made-for-TV movie.) Upon read­ing that parts of it were in “real­ity TV” for­mat, I was a bit hes­i­tant and skep­ti­cal, but you know, it works out pretty well. Overall, I thought this was a great blend of the human side of things and the hard­core scifi. I am not a rocket sci­en­tist, but know a thing or two about physics, and it really looked like they did their research and hit a lot of lit­tle details that most folks would over­look. The mys­tery and para­noia com­bined with the sus­pense and excite­ment of the go/no-go (I’m a huge sucker for event hori­zons, points of no return, heavy machin­ery spin­ning up, count­downs to igni­tion, count­downs to minimum-safe-distance, and the like) really had me on the edge of my seat through­out the whole episode movie. It is still avail­able for watch­ing on Hulu for a short while (and also can be found amongst the tor­rent of bits) and is highly rec­om­mended. It is just a shame that nobody bought the series after such an amaz­ingly amaz­ing pilot.

Posted in: Books Gadgets Television

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