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.


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.


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.


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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