Why I Love My Kindle, And Why I Don’t

A Kindle 3 in the box.

Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work.  Well, a lot more than I expected anyway.  It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.

Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly.  Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters.  I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery.  My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored.  There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.

The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.

The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions.  Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book.  I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution.  It’s obscene.  An insult even.

The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square.  I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY.  I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home.  The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader.  You can’t touch it.  You just can’t appreciate it the same way.  I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday.  He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly.  He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google.  It’s not the same experience.  It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it.  I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again.  Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.

My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks.  I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading.  You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device.  For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in Real Life

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I don’t know how many of you have read this book, but it was required reading for me in high school.  Luckily, it was a book that I actually enjoyed, unlike quite a few Emily Bronte novels that I’d have happily thrown on Guy’s stack for burning.

The basic premise of Fahrenheit 451 is that, in the near future, books are illegal.  Firemen, once used to put out fires (though that’s not known to the general public) are now used to start fires, specifically at the homes of people who are found to be harboring books illegally.

The story goes into a lot of detail about the breakdown of the fabric of society, the slow disintegration of the bonds between family members that keep the world functioning.  It talks about ignorance and doing things just because that’s how they’ve ‘always’ been done.  Then it talks about hope and enlightenment, in the form of Guy realizing that things don’t have to stay the same and he can and should make a change.

I won’t ruin the book for you, but if you haven’t read it, you should.

I was flipping through articles in my RSS reader and I hit on two posts, nearly back-to-back from The Next Web that sounded like they were pages from the book.

The first article is titled: “This Could Be Massive: Interactive TV…

So, why did this stand out to me?  Well, one of the future technologies in Fahrenheit 451 is a television system that is installed in place of walls in the living room.  The television programs are completely 3D, completely immersive and completely interactive to the point that the show can not progress unless the viewer moves it along by saying the proper things at the proper times and interacting with what is known as “the family”.  The flaw that the author was trying to express here is that these fake people, this fake “family”, draws so much attention away from real life and real family that it causes a breakdown between people.  It’s almost like what’s happening now with so many women complaining that men spend more time with their computers and video game consoles than with them, but on a grander scale.  TNW’s article went on to detail what could be the first step towards the four-walled TV “family” that Bradbury imagined.  It’s both exciting and frightening, if you believe the potential consequences that Bradbury laid out in his book.

Just after that I saw another one of their articles titled “Love to read? Too busy? Brain Shots can help.”

The article goes on to discuss how Brain Shots has condensed books down to 10k words and they can be read via computer, e-reader and some mobile phones.  Some have even gone extra simple and are available as audio books.  In one part of Fahrenheit 451, when Guy starts questioning the established order and his Fire Chief figures out what’s going on in his head, the Chief tries to ‘save’ him by explaining to him how things became the way they were.  Long story short, he said that people did it to themselves.  People couldn’t be satisfied with reading real literature, books and stories with real value, or messages that explained deeper emotions and feelings.  He said that eventually people started reading things in digests, then as blurbs and snippets, and eventually as 30 second blasts over the four-walled TVs.  He asked how you could condense a classic work of literature into a 30 second blast and still retain it’s true meaning?  Everything became dumbed down to keep everyone happy.  To keep things exciting!  I think Twitter is sort of a first step towards what Bradbury had imagined.  How many of you that use Twitter know a Twitter wannabe pundit that tries to condense the feeling and emotion of a whole work of literature into 140 characters?  And then, of course, there’s this article talking about Brain Shots, which is literally taking a page from Bradbury’s book.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his book was their inspiration.

Technology is a beautiful thing, but I hope we keep using it wisely and effectively and don’t reduce our culture and our whole body of world literature into meaningless blasts of drivel that lose their true meaning.  Bradbury’s book may have been written half a century ago, but it’s becoming more and more meaningful as time goes on.

A few interesting quotes from the book:

“Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but its a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlor ‘families’? If you can, you’ll win your way, Montag. In any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun.”

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

This is definitely one of my favorite books.

Google Android OS on the Acer Aspire One

Earlier tonight I was at the mall and I saw a really neat little netbook called an Acer Aspire One.  It had good specs, like a 1.66 ghz processor, 250 gb HDD, 1 GB of RAM, a 10″ screen, etc.  Basically, everything you need for a good little netbook.

Then I noticed a little green guy on one of the stickers and read it and got excited.  It said that the laptop could dual boot between Windows 7 and Android OS.  I was thinking, ‘Hey, that’s not supposed to be out yet.’  I’d remembered seeing a post on a tech bog recently about a link to a downloadable version of Google’s OS that turned out to be a fake.

When you live in the US you always hear about how Asia has bad ass tech that’s always out earlier and cheaper than what you can get in the US, so I was surprised but not really surprised.  (Keep reading).  I haven’t really found that to be true so far, but it is true that you can usually get electronics cheaper in Asia, especially in Singapore.  Singapore has ‘IT’ fairs every 3 months at the SunTec convention center and there are generally some good deals there.  It’s mostly clearing inventory, so what you get isn’t cutting edge, but it’s great deals nonetheless.  Anyway, back to the netbooks…

I got so excited that I took these photos:

Later I realized something that made me sad.  Google has two OSes they’re working on.  One is called Android and one is called Chrome.  The Android OS is supposed to be for phones, while Chrome is supposed to be their desktop OS.  Chrome is the one that’s not out yet, and I at first got confused and thought this laptop had Chrome on it.

So, the operating system on the laptop is actually the phone software.  That’s really confusing and I remember reading that people were wondering why Google was working on two separate OSes in the first place.  I think people were generally going with the idea that Google should have done things the way Apple did, with OS X running the iPhones.  I did read that Android boots up fast, in 18 seconds, but that doesn’t mean much to me.  Ubuntu 9.10 boots up fast too and I’m sure it has more support and available programs than a phone OS.  Netbook or not, I expect it to be able to do more than JUST browse web pages and compose e-mail, especially with a hard drive that big.

It’s annoying that they would put a phone OS on a laptop, but I guess they’re going for the whole ‘cool’ factor to help with promoting the product to potential customers.  If I bought it, I’d give it a try, but I have a feeling I’d wind up installing Ubuntu on that partition, at least until an official version of Google Chrome OS comes out.

(Geek trivia: You might be getting geeky when you start talking about swapping out OSes like other people swap out shoes.)