I got a Kindle

kindle with custom screensaver on

I am aware that I am dreadfully behind the times, but the Kindle I wanted finally hit a price point that I felt was worth it and I got one: a Kindle Keyboard 3G/Wifi model. It’s nice. I’ve been tinkering with it. Here are some initial impressions.

1. Now that the Kindle Fire and other fancier ebook readers are out, the older ones are relatively inexpensive. While you can still buy this model new for low three figures, I got it refurbished from ebay for $50 delivered and was happy about it. Didn’t come in an Amazon box. Just showed up in some bubble wrap with a cable. Fine by me and super cheap for worldwide low-end 3G and an “experimental” browser.

2. I am mostly interested in using this when I travel for the free worldwide-ish internet access as well as being able to carry a lot of books with me on a long trip. I still prefer paper books but am at the point where I need to have more working knowledge of ebook readers than I have. We lend them out at the library that I occasionally work at, but that isn’t enough. I am not interested in buying a lot of new books. I am not interested in creating any more of a relationship with Amazon than I already have. I have a loose relationship with copyright laws but that doesn’t mean that you should, necessarily.

3. First step: hacking it so I can do what I want with it. I do not want their default screen savers. I do not want to pay them to convert things to PDF for me. I do not want to only buy things from the store, I don’t really care about the store. I don’t like the blinky page turning effect. A quick google brings me to this page. I follow a few instructions and I have my own screensavers and a jailbroken Kindle. I also read more about the blinky page flashing effect and why it exists (and that the alternative is often ghosting which would drive me crazy) and I’ve decided to stick with the blinky and learn to live with it, even though it’s nice to have options. I am not messing with the default fonts, for now. I am not installing KIF the Kindle interactive fiction interpreter, for now. I am okay that I will miss out on Amazon-only releases, for now.

4. Second step: get some books. As I said, I wanted to see how much I could do with this without involving Amazon. I’m not anti-Amazon so much as I’m just Amazon-agnostic and don’t want to have my device talking to them about me. There are basically three main ways to get books on to the thing: buy them, steal/borrow them, create them.

As much as I love the DIY Scanner idea, it’s a ways off for me. So I’m going to focus on the middle option.

First option: I went to Listen Up Vermont and gritted my teeth through the terrible interface (which I hear is changing), found a book I wanted to read, went to check it out, tried three different library cards until I got one that worked. Then got to the Amazon page and had to log in there as well. Did not want to register my Kindle. My only option at that point was to read the book in the “cloud reader” [i.e. on their website]. Okay. No way to download a book without becoming an Amazon customer. I’m sure this is not news to anyone who has a Kindle, but I hadn’t really tried this all out yet. This whole process took far too long.

Second option: Open Library. Found a book I wanted to read. “Checked it out” via Open Library’s nifty checkout options. Not even sure which library card I used, maybe it was just me being in the state of Vermont. Checked out the PDF of the book. Downloaded it to my desktop via Adobe Digital Editions which did not require me to register for an account but did have less functionality if I didn’t register which seemed okay to me. Could read it on my desktop. Was prohibited because of DRM from reading it on my Kindle. In the interests of science I tried to figure out how to get this to work anyhow. Spent a lot of time on this website reading about Calibre and the DRM and ebooks generally. Don’t let the post dates fool you, this is a fairly up to date blog. Calibre is a great ebook management tool that follows in the steps of some other open source tools in that it doesn’t break DRM itself, but you can obtain plug-ins that will do the DRM-breaking if you want. It also does a lot of other great things like allowing you to edit ebook metadata and group and organize your ebook collection. You can also use Calibre to format-shift your ebooks to and from various formats. I took the DRM off this ebook and then moved it to my Kindle. It’s not so great to read there because it’s in PDF format but it was good for proof of concept. 500 page PDFs are just not awesome for reading.

Third option: piracy. Most of the time if you search for a reasonably popular book using the title and other words like “mobi” or “epub” you can find forums where people upload pirated copies of these books to filesharing sites like divshare or mediafire. It’s worth noting that the Apprentice Alf website that helps you break DRM explicitly says that breaking DRM to upload books to piracy sites is an explicitly uncool use of DRM end-running which is the position I agree with for the most part. I tried the pirate download options with a book I already had in hard copy and found not just that book but a bundle of five other books by the same author. Downloaded, unrar-ed drag-and-dropped to my Kindle. Started reading. No passwords. No failures.

And as far as the reading experience, I’ve taken to it much more quickly than I thought I would. This is, of course, what everyone but me thought would happen. The Kindle is light, the back-forth buttons are simple and not accidentally clicked. I like being able to look up words in a dictionary without moving more than a few fingers. I like that it knows where I left off. I like getting to toss a book out when I am done with it. All in all my conclusions are much like the ones I was nodding my head with at the In Re: Books conference. Ebooks readers are great and improving all the time. It’s the ebooks themselves–the DRM, the bad user experience, the complicated and wonky checkout procedures, the lack of privacy, the changing restrictions we deal with as libraries, the terrible websites our vendors create–that are not just suboptimal but at the center of a bad user experience that we’re in the awkward position of promoting as if it were our own.

So, mixed feelings of course. I’ve gone to bed and read my Kindle most nights this week and enjoy it. I still can’t look a patron in the eye and explain that they need to go through a bunch of bad websites, log in at least twice and create relationships with multiple vendors who are not the library in order to check out a book from us. Here’s hoping the landscape will change for the better. Here’s suggesting we do what we can to help that happen.

how did they get those numbers: ebooks

Amazon likes to make you think that they are selling ebooks at a tremendous rate. And they are, compared to hardcover books. But when you add paperbacks into the mix, and then extrapolate to what Amazon’s share of the ebook market is (90%) ebooks market dominance seems much less gigantic. Longer discussion over at Slashdot.

how to destroy the book

I’m still sort of annoyed at Amazon’s self-serving press release about more ebooks being sold for the Kindle on Christmas Day than “real” books. I feel a few things

1. they’re creating a distinction that isn’t necessary, between ebooks and paper books
2. at the same time they’re obscuring the very very real distinction that exists and is terribly important: you do not own an ebook, you license or lease it

Plus I just plain old don’t believe it. I mean maybe it’s true for the narrowly sliced timeframe they’ve outlined but really? This isn’t a trend, it’s a blip. Want me to think otherwise? Release some actual numbers. Amazon makes more money off of ebooks than paper books. They’d like to keep doing that. So.

I’ve been meaning to link to this talk for a while, a transcribed talk that Cory Doctorow gave at the National Reading Summit in November. The title of his talk was How to Destroy the Book. I think you’ll enjoy it.

[T]he most important part of the experience of a book is knowing that it can be owned. That it can be inherited by your children, that it can come from your parents. That libraries can archive it, they can lend it, that patrons can borrow it. That the magazines that you subscribe to can remain in a mouldering pile of National Geographics in someone’s attic so you can discover it on a rainy day—and that they don’t disappear the minute you stop subscribing to it. It’s a very odd kind of subscription that takes your magazines away when you’re done [as is the case with most institutional subscriptions with Elsevier, the world’s largest publisher of medical and scientific journals].

Having your books there like an old friend, following you from house to house for all the days and long nights of your life: this is the invaluable asset that is in publishing’s hands today. But for some reason publishing has set out to convince readers that they have no business reading their books as property—that they shouldn’t get attached to them. The worst part of this is that they may in fact succeed.

the real deal on the Amazon/1984 recall thingamabob

I was waiting to write about the Kindle story until I knew what the heck actually happeend. As you know, when journalists [or bloggers] write about technology, especially hot button stories, they tend to leave out important information. This is often because they don’t totally understand the mechanisms they’re describing, but also because certain people have vested interests in the story being told a certain way. No one says “A Microsoft virus” they say “A computer virus.” Anyhow… Copyfight, one of my favorite blogs has created a heavily hyperlinked timeline of what was going on with the situation in which Amazon pulled some titles (including Orwell’s 1984), titles users had paid for, off of Kindles. Granted, the blog post uses some heavy-handed language, it’s certainly far from objective, but let’s be not just fair but accurate when we try to explain the ways in which a book is not at all the same as an e-book. The differences matter.

can I kindle?

Rochelle mentions a library in New Hampshire that is lending out Kindles and also mentions that their use — which was okayed by Amazon support — got a different answer to “is this okay” from the support rep that she spoke with.

not so kuddly kindle

Rochelle asks and Amazon answers: is loaning the Kindle (by libraries) a violation of Amazon.com’s terms of service. Answer: yes.

the future of reading, Amazon.com’s then and now statements

I learned what I know about greasemonkey and an awful lot about accessibility by reading Mark Pilgrim’s Dive Into Accessibility and Dive Into Greasemonkey. He has a blog at DiveIntoMark, of course, which I sometimes read. Today I was directed there by David Weinberger to the post called The Future of Reading. As David points out Mark’s post is not just a cheeky then and now juxtaposition of some of the things Jeff Bezos has said, it’s also “the story of the coming change in norms. And a change in norms rewrites all the stories leading up to it.” How are you feeling about your digital rights, and the content in your libraries?

nownow.com/nownow answers by email… NOW

I am intrigued by nownow.com, Amazon’s answers-like service that allows you to ask questions via your phone [or other web enabled device] and they’ll email you back three answers, fast. Looks like the answers come from people working for mturk.com and, if I’m not mistaken these answers generally take a minute or two and answerers get paid a few cents. The answers I’ve seen are your standard concise copy/paste web answers, they seem pretty good for factual type questions. Here are some examples

Is faceted indexing the future of social tagging?
What fast birds start with the letter A?
Where is the closest public bathroom to 3 Hanover Square NY NY 10004….um like NOW!

At some level it’s like being able to email someone to have them do a web search for you, I bet it becomes very popular and I’m curious to see how it fits in with Amazon’s other qanda product, Askville.

Contrast this to library email reference. In this example (which coincidentally came in to my inbox this week for an unrelated reason) where someone is trying to remember a book from their childhood (which, as we know, is a really typical reference query). The librarian, while excruciatingly thorough with the resources, does the standard librarian thing and teaches as he or she tries to answer the question. For an opening line to a response to a “what’s this book” question, this one is sort of…. daunting?

Fiction is usually cataloged by author and title, not by subject or plot line, which makes identifying books by their plot an often difficult endeavor. One of the best ways to find books for which you know only the plot is to ask other knowledgeable and well-read people for help. There are several resources you can consult to do this.

The answer is amazing if, like librarians, you look up books for people as your job. However, telling someone to subscribe to a listserv just to answer a “what’s this book” question seems a bit like overkill. Telling them to ask knowledgeable people seems to pave the way for the response “isn’t that what I just did?” In any case, names have been removed and this is not a “tut tut” post, just an interesting observation on the divergence of serious ref and ready ref.

askville, questiontown, referenceland, infoworld

Amazon.com is getting into the community Q & A game with their new website AskVille. It’s in limited beta right now, but feel free to IM me (US and Canada only) and I’ll be happy to spot you an invite. My first impressions? Slick and pastellish with some neat features, but seems like it’s going to go more in the Yahoo Answers direction [high noise, low signal] than any other more authoritative AskA sites. I’ve asked a question and answered a question, but so far I’m not feeling real compelled to go back.

make Amazon suck like your OPAC. innovative + api haxie

If Amazon sucked like our old OPAC. To be fair, this Innovative version is pretty ancient. Funny? Yes. Accurate? Not entirely. [thanks marlene]