In Frank Capra’s great film, It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favorite scenes takes place in a bar after the angel Clarence has given George the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. Nick the bartender overhears Clarence telling George that every time a bell rings, an angel just got his wings. A moment later, after Clarence and George get thrown out, Nick keeps opening and closing the cash register, which rings a bell, and says, “Get me, I’m giving out wings.” Well, typos and grammatical errors in all books have reached epidemic proportions; now whenever I hear a bell ring, I think, “A publisher has just released another book riddled with errors.”
Although this situation is most readily apparent in e-books, it also has plagued printed books for many years. It has been at least 15 years since I last read a printed book without any typos or glaring grammatical errors. But the situation with e-books is downright horrific. I just finished reading the Kindle edition of Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show (Dorchester Publishing). Just in reading the book (not actually trying to proofread), I noticed 45 typos, some truly ridiculous. To cite one example, in one place the word “backward” appears as “back-Richard Laymon-ward”. Several times the word “corner” appears as “comer,” an obvious scanning error since in some fonts “rn” can look a lot like “m”. It’s clear to me that absolutely no proofreading could have been done on this e-book; the typos are too numerous and too easy to spot for them to have escaped the notice of even a semi-comatose proofreader. It would be amusing if it weren’t so distracting. Although this book may be a particularly egregious case, typos run rampant through every e-book I’ve read and can be found in every printed book as well, though they don’t usually appear in quite such large numbers in printed books.
The shoddy editorial work that is now the norm in the publishing world is distressing to me. I worked in the publishing industry for 11 years in the 80s and early 90s; even back then one had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to do the copyediting and proofreading work necessary to put out a high quality book. Apparently those battles have been lost, and no one even tries any more. As is the case in so much of the business world, quality is not valued highly nowadays. So when I hear publishers moan that e-books are expensive to produce, despite the lack of paper and printing costs, I can’t help but laugh since it’s clear that virtually no effort is put into their production.
I am sure that there are still some small publishers out there that do concentrate on quality, and I would love to come across their work. But my e-reading experiences have been disheartening to say the least.
Today I want to talk about my recent experiences checking out ereaders at several national brick and mortar retailers. It was not a pretty sight.
First, my local WalMart, where there is a circular kiosk displaying phones, digital cameras, the IPAD2, and ereaders. The ereader display includes a large poster touting the Nook and Nook Color (no sign for the new Nook Touch). There are only two units actually on display: a Nook Color, which is nonfunctioning and has been so for at least six weeks, and a functioning Kobo Wifi (not the new Kobo Touch). Here’s the worst part: no sign or display unit for the Kindle KSO despite the fact that there is a whole stack of them hidden behind the kiosk, where they have been languishing unpromoted for at least a month. Why bother stocking a product you have no intention of even trying to sell? By the way, there is rarely someone manning the kiosk.
On to Best Buy. Things were only slightly better here. The following units were on display: Sony PRS350 and 950, Nook1, Nook Color, both Kindle KSOs, Kobo Wifi. The two Sony models were not working, which is too bad because I really wanted to check them out. Although there were a few boxed Nook Touchs, there wasn’t one on display. When I asked a salesperson about that, she said maybe in a few weeks they would put a Nook Touch on display. The Nook Color was working okay, but I already have one, so I didn’t play with it much. Other customers were looking at the Kindles. Overall a slightly better experience than at WalMart, but the nonfunctioning Sonys and the lack of a display Nook Touch really put me off.
Next up, Barnes & Noble. This is the same store where I purchased my Nook Color a couple of months ago and had a positive experience with a good sales rep. Not so positive this time. First, I give B&N credit for having the Nook kiosk front and center when you first walk in the store. I went straight to the new Nook Touch to have a look. I kid you not, the first thing the sales rep (someone new to me) said was “That one doesn’t really do much.” I don’t know if the idea was to promote the Nook Color as doing more, but I thought that was an awfully strange introduction to their brand new e-ink device. Next, when I started using the physical page-turn ridges on the side, the rep said, “Oh, I didn’t know it could do that.” Are you kidding me? With regard to the device itself, it’s light, attractive, fun to use, but the display model I used had horrible ghosting, to the point that I lost interest. I hope B&N fixes that soon with a firmware upgrade.
The only positive experience of the day was viewing a Kindle DX at Staples. It was the first time I had my hands on one, and it was very impressive. Fortunately for my wallet, I couldn’t justify the cost, but I really liked it and the display unit was functioning.
The irony in all this is that the only retail establishment relevant to these e-reading devices that I’ve enjoyed spending time in is Borders; the one where I bought my Kobo is one of the ones that was closed. Obviously Borders has had (and still does) lots of problems, but the one I frequented was staffed by knowledgeable, friendly people; the store had a good atmosphere, much more lively than the B&N a short distance away.
I realize that this little sampling of retail experiences hardly constitutes a thorough critique of brick and mortar practices, but perhaps if Walmart, Best Buy, and B&N would focus more on their products and customers and less on whining about how Amazon doesn’t have to collect sales tax, we would all be a lot better off. I know this: the next time I buy an ereader, whichever model it is, I will purchase it online.
Public Domain Pick of the Day
Today’s recommendation is John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. A great nature writer, Muir is a good companion for armchair nature travels, whether they be in California or Alaska. A good summer read.
Android App Pick of the Day
This Bike Repair app is useful for learning the essentials of bicycle maintenance and repair. Not for the advanced perhaps, but if you are new to maintaining your bicycle, this is a useful tool. Normally $3.99, it’s on sale right now for $0.99 in the Amazon App Store for Android.
Sending Web Articles to K3
In addition to sending books and news to my Kindle, I often send internet articles I want to read but either don’t have time to read when I encounter them while at my computer or prefer to read on my Kindle due to the length of the articles. The articles may be lengthy reviews, tutorials, wiki pages, etc. There are a number of applications that will send such articles to your Kindle for later reading and one that even finds interesting articles for you and sends them on. In this post I will look briefly at three such applications: SendtoReader, Instapaper, and Delivereads. I will look at a couple of others in a future post.
When I encounter articles I want to read but am in no hurry, I often use Instapaper. You set up an account with Instapaper and then add the instapaper email to your approved email list in your Amazon account. The bookmarklet that you add to your bookmarks toolbar is called “Read Later”; clicking on it will save the article for later reading on your computer. But Instapaper also has a Manage Your Kindle feature that you can use to set up automatic delivery to your Kindle of your saved articles on a daily or weekly basis. I currently have my saved articles sent once a week. So I use Instapaper for saving articles I’m in no hurry to digest and SendtoReader for articles I plan to read soon but want to read on my Kindle.
An interesting service offered by Dave Pell is Delivereads. You subscribe by signing up with your Kindle email address and adding email@example.com to your Amazon approved email list. You will receive articles that Mr. Pell has gleaned from the NY Times, the Atlantic, etc. for your perusal. Well worth a try to see if you find his selection of articles to your taste. It’s very easy to unsubscribe if you decide it’s not for you.
Public Domain Recommendation of the Day
Today’s PD recommendation is The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Though it is not generally regarded as highly as Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, or David Copperfield, I find The Old Curiosity Shop to be a great read. Second-tier Dickens is still awfully good. It features one of Dickens’ most malevolent characters (among many), the dwarf Daniel Quilp. Dickens is one of my favorite writers; if you haven’t read anything of his in a while, you might take a look at The Old Curiosity Shop and let me know what you think.
Android App of the Day
For those of you using Android on your Nook Color (I run Cyanogen Mod 7 on a microSD card), my Android App pick today is Taptu, a free news feed reader that I prefer to the more commonly known Pulse. Check it out and let me know what you think.
One of my favorite things about the Kindle is Amazon’s Whispernet Wifi and 3G wireless system (and the Whispersync techonology for syncing across Kindle devices). I don’t have the KIndle 3G, so today’s post will be assuming the use of Wifi rather than 3G. Everything here will work for the 3G device, but I recommend still following the instructions below using your @free.kindle.com address and Wifi rather than your @kindle.com address and 3G in order to avoid data charges from Amazon.
Calibre + Whispernet
Most people who have been using ereaders for a while know about Calibre, a fantastic program for managing your ebook library. For anyone not familiar with it, I highly recommend you check it out. The program has a great number of uses, many of which I will explore over time in this blog. The one I want to discuss today involves using Calibre to download news, send it to your Kindle, then delete it from your library to avoid clutter. The best part is that all of this will be set up to be done automatically.
Before we get into Calibre, let’s set up our Kindle account to receive documents from our email account. You have probably already set this up, but if not, log into your Amazon account. Go to Manage Your Kindle, and click on Personal Document Settings. Near the bottom, make sure your email address is in the list of approved email addresses. For this sample, we will use the fictitious firstname.lastname@example.org. Now Amazon will accept documents sent from email@example.com and forward them to our Kindle using Wifi (we use the also fictitious firstname.lastname@example.org as the address for our Kindle).
Now let’s set up Calibre to enable us to send a book or document to our Kindle via Wifi using our @free.kindle.com address. (We can also “sideload” books and documents by hooking our Kindle up to the computer using the USB cable, but we will concentrate on using Wifi in today’s post.) First, after opening Calibre, we click on the Preferences icon, then on the “Sharing Books by Email” button under the section “Sharing.” Click on the “Add Email” button and fill in the information as shown. (I have checked the box for Auto Send; we will use that for the News download in a bit.)
Now click on the “Apply” button. Test this using a book or document in your Calibre library; my example shows today’s Public Domain Recommendation, the H.P. Lovecraft story, The Whisperer in Darkness, which is already in my Calibre library:
Now click on the “Connect/share” icon and choose “Email to email@example.com.” Make sure your Kindle is on and Wifi is on, and within a couple of minutes you should receive the file on your Kindle. If all has gone well, we are now ready for the news.
Calibre already has hundreds of “recipes” for downloading news of all kinds in a couple dozen languages. For this example, I’m going to schedule Calibre to download news from the Associated Press every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning. It will send the news to my @free.kindle.com address automatically (remember, we checked the “Auto Send” option earlier); then it will delete the news from the Calibre library after sending it (I’ll show how to enable this in a bit; you don’t have to do this if you don’t want). First click on the “Fetch news” icon. Then click on the + sign next to English to see all the choices. We go to Associated Press and highlight it. We pick the options we want and click “save.”
Lastly, if we want Calibre to delete the news after sending it to the Kindle: Click on the Preferences icon, then click the “Behavior” button under the Interface section. Then check the box for “Delete news from library when it is automatically sent to reader.” That’s it!
Calibre is very powerful and has many more tricks up its sleeve, but next time we will look at several other programs that are designed specifically for sending articles from the web to your Kindle. These are not library management programs like Calibre, but perform their particular functions very well.
Kindles with Special Offers
I am not against advertising per se, I’m really not. Magazine ads, TV commercials, radio ads, they have all helped pay the bills for many years. Sometimes they’re entertaining, sometimes informative, often annoying or obnoxious. Nothing new here. What concerns me is ad creep, the insidious way they have of infesting every corner of our lives. I remember when cable channels first started showing their logos in a corner of the screen. They were tastefully done, and in the beginning only faded in and out periodically, maybe every ten minutes. Now they are splashed everywhere, nearly all the time, and many of them are unabashed ads that scrawl across the bottom of the screen, distracting as can be. It’s so bad that I don’t watch any live broadcasts anymore (except for sports); I watch TV shows exclusively on DVD; no commercials, no annoying logos.
Oh, that’s right, this is supposed to be about the Kindle. The positive reviews of the Kindle with Special Offers usually make the following points:
1. The ads are tastefully done; some of the artwork is quite nice, better than the screensavers on the regular Kindle. Fair enough, but that’s exactly how things started with channel logos on television, and look where we are now. I’m glad the ads are handled nicely and do not appear while reading a book, but will it always be so? Slippery slope and all that. Time will tell.
2. They’re not just ads, but special offers, and many of them are quite worthwhile. Okay, I can’t argue with that per se, but I’m not sure I want to be inundated with offers of any kind on my e-reader (to me it’s almost like spam). But I can see that lots of people like the offers, so I can’t argue with that.
3. If you don’t like the special offers, you can just buy a regular Kindle, and everybody’s happy. I agree with this completely as long as all these choices remain. Again, I worry about how this may shake out over time. Right now, there are 5 Kindles: Kindle Wifi, with and without special offers; Kindle 3G, with and without special offers; and the Kindle DX. There are also pretty solid rumors of a Kindle tablet coming later this year. So my concern is whether Amazon will actually keep all of these in production; note that with their recent foray into Wal-Mart, only the Kindles with Special Offers are available there (to the best of my knowledge; my local Wal-Mart carries only the $114 Kindle).
Let me emphasize that I will be happy as long as I continue to have the option of a Kindle without Special Offers. If that option ever goes away, I will really be concerned about the road down which Amazon will be heading.
Some Favorite Covers
While I know many people enjoy their e-readers “naked,” I really like using mine in a cover, both for the added protection (e-ink screens can be a little fragile) and for the comfort they provide while reading (I realize this is a subjective thing). I have tried a lot of different covers for my devices but have settled on a few favorites: one for the Kobo; two that I switch between for the Kindle, and one for the Nook Color.
A flip-stand cover for the Nook Color:
Book Recommendation: A Public-Domain SciFi Novel
Published in 1920, David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus is a fascinating read. Though the writing is at times awkward, the book is interesting and a good read. The action takes place mostly on the planet Tormance in the Arcturian system but is more fantasy and philosophical allegory than science fiction. I enjoyed it and hope you will too. Available for free at Manybooks, Feedbooks, Project Gutenberg, and Amazon.
News on the Kindle
I no longer watch televisions news and don’t have time to read full newspapers (digital or paper). But I do like receiving the New York Times Latest News on my Kindle. It is sent three or four times a day; each edition contains 12-15 articles, though there are some articles that are repeated for two or three editions. I find it to be just about the right amount of news to digest each day (the articles are not too long). Price is $1.99 per month; like all newspaper and magazine subscriptions, it has a 14-day free trial period.
Greetings, fellow e-readers! First, a little about this blog. I intend for this to be a place for me to express some thoughts and preferences regarding e-reading devices and accessories, e-books, and how the face of publishing and reading is changing. I welcome your comments and look forward to any discussions engendered by my posts.
Currently I own and regularly use three e-readers: Kobo Wifi, Kindle 3, and Nook Color. On the Nook Color, I run the stock B&N software, and I also boot Android from a microSD card with CM7. I enjoy all three of these readers, but use the Kindle and the Kobo for long reading sessions; the NC I use for shorter reading sessions and as a tablet more than as a dedicated reader. In subsequent posts I will talk about each of these readers and how I use them, but for now I’ll just say that the Kindle gets the most use, but I do use all three on a daily basis.
My goal is to post three times a week (probably on MWF), but life may not always cooperate with my intended schedule. I welcome not only comments to the posts but also any suggestions for topics. I do not anticipate this being a news blog as such, though I’m sure I’ll comment on e-reading news that interests me.
Just as background, I am a Linux user on all my computers at work and at home. I don’t use Windows or Mac, so I won’t be able to talk about them much at all. I don’t use a smartphone, just a basic cellphone, but I do like the Nook Color as an Android tablet. I’m a big fan of the Calibre program and anticipate a number of posts on specific tasks it enables me to accomplish.
Coming up in the next post: favorite covers for my e-readers; thoughts on the Kindles with Special Offers; my first e-book recommendation (a science fiction novel in the public domain); and a news blog recommendation for the Kindle.