The good people at WIRED NEWS have a short review of the new Kindle e-reader from Amazon, which is supposed to ship on August 27. It’s called an ‘evolution’ of the currently existing machines, with improvements in navigation, better shaped buttons etc. Mr. Bezos, head of Amazon, is quoted several times in the story. He explains the decision NOT to include a touch screen: touch screens degrade the performance of e-ink so the person has a poorer “experience”. Two color choices are available. Amazon’s leaders are convinced that users will accept the need to carry separate devices, including a dedicated e-reader, if it is light and if carrying it pays off by delivering good, clear text. And, they say that their research shows that e-readers are coming close to the price point at which they break out and become mass-market devices. This puts Amazon in a good spot, if people are willing to settle for text, and Apple in a not so good one, for that market anyway. But that argument runs the other way too: Kindle users are excluded from all the stuff that Ipad users can do. Bezos argues that people who read won’t care about not being able to watch video. They don’t watch it now, so, no loss. It’s all marvelous, when you think about it. Hundreds of books on a little dingus you can slip into a decent cargo pocket on your shorts or casual pants.
Don’t worry, it’s not another vampire story, or one about zombies either. And it’s not steam punk. So, what? Well, I blogged about it before, a while ago. A vook is a video book. See, you get the book to read on your machine. But it’s a special kind of book: it has been “enhanced” with video to make the narrative more compelling or the content more understandable somehow. Hmmmmmm. Well, I’m of two minds on this. Actually, I’m of two minds on just about everything, which makes me wonder sometimes…but, I digress. Here’s my problem. I think that “accessing video” will be relatively easy with the right platform. The difficulty is in how much work the publisher wants to allow in creating or using the right kind of video and what does the video do to move the story along or help the reader follow the argument, in the case of non-fiction. A book on the history of theatrical costume would definitely benefit from video showing examples from Elizabethan or Restoration plays. But, doing that right would take a lot of work in the archives, and maybe the publishers don’t want to eat that cost. Today’s paper has a story on Vooks,and on three enhanced books, from three different publishers, all trying to ease into the video book market, and explore what works and what doesn’t. They only work on the Ipad, so anybody wanting this experience will have to pony up for the cost of the machine. The situation is a little confused right now, but you can bet the publishers are watching to see how this does, and if people start clamoring for more “enhanced” books.
Well, I’m brushing off my prophet’s hat. We called it yesterday pm and in today’s Times, in the business section, there was a story about not one, but two, count ‘em two, new Kindle readers. And, the price has been cut to $139, which is a nice drop. The gadget is being marketed as the Kindle Wi-Fi, because that’s the way in connects to the Mother Ship…WiFi only. A new version of the Kindle2 is also coming out, and this one will work with cellular phone networks. Amazon is very cheery about the outlook for dedicated readers, and their spokesguy said there’s no reason not to plan for a tenth or a twentieth generation of e-readers. Well, maybe. I think the real news is the lower price, which will go even lower at Christmas. Observers say that the push will be to get the thing priced at a point which says “mass market”, and right now that seems at about $100. After all, it’s a razor and blades business. The real money is in the downloads, and the extra goodies that Amazon and others will start offering soon, not in the reader, whcih easily could be given away. That’s probably next.
Amazon reports that it is sold out of Kindle e-book readers. Hmmm. That has wags pondering whether Amazon just cleared the shelves of the old model in order to make room for a new, improved Kindle Something Or Other. Of course, it happens. Companies run out of stuff, in the face of big demands and have to restock. But the same wags say they haven’t seen any really mighty surges in orders for Kindles, not so much that the inventory would be wiped out anyway. So, they are betting on the new versions. Word has been circulating on the Bush Telegraph about a product called Kindle Slim, which had a launch date of August 2010. Well, this is July, and if the rumors are true and if the company is on schedule, we should be hearing announcements right about now. In fact, it’s a little late. So the great Kindle mystery continues.
Thirty years ago the Post-it note was born. That seems like a long time, to me anyway. We’ve become used to them and think that they were always around, but they weren’t and in some ways they did make life and work a lot easier. I don’t think it’s one of the Great Triumphs of Civilization or anything like that, but they do come in handy. After the inital offering of the ubiquitous yellow, the thing transformed into all sorts of sizes and shapes, in all kinds of colors. It seems there must be some upper limit on how big a Post-it can be. The biggest size I’ve seen is about 3 by 5 or even a little smaller. So, now you know.
Mosquitoes. Right now they are quite pesky hereabouts, and if the rainy, warm weather continues, they will be with us for a while. You see people giving the “Galveston salute”…that mix of wavings and batterings and slappings that, honestly, look kind of funny at a distance, but don’t seem funny at all when you’re walking through a cloud of the little assassins yourself. Nothing happens until it happens to you, as the fella said. All this is in aid of a new book called FEVER, by Sonia Shah, a Boston-based journalist. It’s about malaria, and the New York Times reviewer, Dr. Abgail Zuger, gave it a high-five in today’s Science section. I learned some things: if you can get through childhood, malaria may not bother you much in adulthood. Then, there’s malaria and malaria. Some types are rapid killers, while others remain dormant for long periods and rather than taking you off right away, make you feel a little bit poopy off and on. Some parts of the world accept chronic malaria infecton with a ho-hum attitude and are puzzled about Westerners’ zeal in trying to stamp out something that’s not a problem. Counter measures usually run out of steam pretty quickly. Quinine, or “Jesuit bark” as it was called long ago, works pretty well, but can be very toxic, so you have to know what you’re doing. Modern drugs seem to work fine,and then lose punch. It’s all very frustrating and very interesting, both scientifically and historically. This is another good read I’ve promised myself, but not right now, when the blighters are all over the place. I’ll wait till its colder. And darker.
Darkness and Light are the twin pivots of our lives. But, modern humans have contrived to extend light well into periods when, physically and biologically speaking, there should be darkness. The drive to bring light to dark places is one of the major cultural engines of civilization. For most of history, there was really no contest. Darkness won, hands down. People went inside when it got dark, and it was dark there too, except for a hearth or a few candles for those who could afford them. Pretty boring, actually. But, most people worked so hard during the daylight that they were well enough pleased to sleep if they could, till dawn summoned them back to work. We don’t think about this at all any more, or at least we don’t until some accident or disaster tosses us back into the dark world of our ancestors. And, we don’t like the experience very much. Jane Brox has written a very intriguing exploration of the history of humanity’s effort to bring light. We’ve succeeded, only too well. From a surfeit of darkness, we’ve moved at enormous cost, to a surfeit of light. The author talks about this too, and about the need to bring back a little darkness for own sake and for the sake of animals that need it. I’ve put this on on my “must read” list, but I have to do it soon.The days will be getting shorter, and darkness will come early.
On the BBC website, we find a good story on the movie SPLICE, and on the top of its scientific accuracy. Dr. Jennifer Rohn, editor of LabLit and herself a working biologist, went to the pic and was interviewed by the Beeb. On the whole, she thinks the science part is not handled all that badly. Considerting what the movies usually do with things like this, I think her rating is a pretty good one. The lab gear seems modern, what one would expect in a BioTech company. And the actors were coached in the correct ways to handle the instruments and lab equipment, so all that seems quite realistic. Dr. Rohn is less satisfied with an underlying message, about science trespassing where it ought not to go. The film’s plot rotates on the consequences of the two lab people messing around with human hybrids, and having to pay the price. Dr. Rohn finds all that pretty tired, but it’s a staple of the genre, and so it goes.
Google has Google Editons, and B&N has a series they sell, so why should Amazon stay on the sidelines? And they aren’t. Publishing-dom was stirred a little by the annnouncement that the Wylie Agency, a literary agent shop, had made a deal with Amazon to supply e-book versions of some of the firm’s hot literary properties. The Agency is selling only the e-book rights, and thereby hangs the tale. Wylie is saying that e-book rights were not covered by the agreements made with Random House, the publisher of the printed versions, and so, it can make deals for the e-version if it wants to and so there. RH is not happy and has said so. It’s a good point, but it will have to go to law, I’m afraid, and you know what that means….”the Law’s delay” was one of the things that were getting under Hamlet’s skin in the “to be, or not to be” thing. There probably will be a settlement, with cash transfers. We’ll see.
In this morning’s New York Times, there is a story in the Business section in which Amazon reports that its sales figures for the last three months show a surge in purchases of titles for its Kindle reader family, with 143 e-titles sold for every 100 hard copy titles. This may be the so-called and longed-for “tipping point”….longed-for if you’re a technology enthusiast… or it may not. It’s an interesting milestone in a process that’s barely three years old or so. And over all, it’s not bad for economic times like these.