Category Archives: etc

Me and My Ansible

My take on the Kindle2, over at Slushpile. Click here to get there.

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From the Trenches: Preliminary Kindle 2 Report, or, ‘My Ansible and Me’

From the Trenches: Preliminary Kindle 2 Report, or, ‘My Ansible and Me’

Before I offer anything like a review, a quick sketch about where I’m coming from with regards to all this :

  1. Even though Tofu for Mac is great, still, I absolutely despise reading on-screen — CRT, flat, whatever else there is (though I guess I’ve yet to try near-eye). And this kind of complicates the whole being a novelist thing. So, what I’ve been doing since I graduated from my two-line, LED display Brother word-processor, which at the time I pretty much considered the pinnacle of technology (a digital display on a typewriter? how can this be?), to Microsoft 95 and whatever version of WordPerfect my roommate could scrounge for me — what I’ve been doing is simply greying out the background, muting every color I can (there seems to be no dial anymore for burn rate), keeping the font-while-drafting pretty close to black. Serif fonts, of course, as I have at least some sense of mental hygiene. And, the result: hours and hours of worthwhile eyestrain. Hundreds of thousands of words of fiction written, to say nothing of blogs, bulletin boards, and some thirty-five thousand or so emails sent.
  2. Though I’m a hundred percent all over the tablets Jean-Luc Picard reads his books on, still, the simple technology of the book, that’s where it’s been for me. Reason it hasn’t changed for hundreds of years? Because it works. So, no, I didn’t jump on Sony’s hot eReader when everybody else was, and didn’t backorder the first Kindle either. However, flying around as much as I seem to, I do often get hit with extra charges at the airline scales — either books I picked up, wasn’t able not to buy, or books I was sure I was going to need, should I get shunted into some side-dimension for a few years, mid-flight (it happens). So, like everybody, I was reading the specs for this Kindle 2, just for that pleasurable eyestrain of reading off a screen, when I caught that you could actually — this is the same kind of revolution a typewriter with a display had been — put your own notes in the digital margins. Now, couple this absolutely necessary feature with the fact that I’m not wholly blind or particularly resistant to the way publishing’s going, and bam, it was seeming more and more like the time to see what this is all about. I mean, these newfangled digital readers, they’re the iPod more or less, and the iPod — mp3’s everywhere, now — have changed the music industry forever, totally restructured how it works, how it can work. So might this generation of digital-book ‘players,’ even if Jobs isn’t getting involved. And, if there’s even the chance of that, of these digital readers changing everything, and I want to at least pretend I’m involved in some way, how could I not nab one of these Kindle 2’s, right? I don’t want to get left behind, after all.

And that’s probably all that matters about me here. On with the review, now:

What’s working:

  • Most important, I guess, is answering the most obvious question: Does it read like a book? Yes. Even better, I’d argue, for the simple reason that every page you’re reading, it’s the verso. The facing page, the one open on the right. This means you don’t have to change position when reading to accommodate that tiresome recto page, don’t have to endure the awkwardness of a new angle, or allow for the shadow that hump of pages can throw.
  • Next would be eye-fatigue: none. And I consider myself particularly sensitive, here. After staring at my own words on a flickering screen for who-knows-how-many hours, ‘retiring’ with a book also on a screen, it’s a good test, I think. And one the Kindle 2 passes. Over the last few days, I’ve read a lot on it1, until the device itself actually kind of disappears, and I find myself thumbing for pages on the top of the device, thinking it’s a ‘conventional’ book. And that’s success. Sure, the format will sometimes eat tabs, jack with the dialogue, spread a TOC over a few pages, all that, but, too, you can change the font size so easy. That itself more than makes up for formatting discrepancies. This is my preferred way of reading, now. I feel naked without my Kindle 2. A complete surprise to me. I didn’t go in to un-naysay, I mean.
  • The five-way joystick rocks. Very intuitive. Thank you, Amazon.
  • Navigation through the text. Check. The search function is great, even with the tiny keyboard. And the dictionary being always right-there: again, thank you, Amazon. And not having to jack with all manner of bookmarkery? Love that. With the Kindle 2, I can just stop reading, and that’s a bookmark. Super-convenient. Maybe my favorite feature, really.
  • Those notes, that user-entered marginalia. It’s not quite scribbling, circling words with grand flourishes, making stars or inscribing question marks by a paragraph (where size of the mark can indicate your objection to the passage), but it’s a good first step, anyway. So long as the next version has a touch screen of some kind, so we can use a stylus to mark the text up in the way those of us unadept-texters are used to, and have those scribbles of course be saved. Maybe even generations of scribbles, each rendered in a different shade or color.
  • These free samples you can nab on Amazon. Excellent idea. So, so functional; because of them, I’m buying more, I think. I’m a marketing victim, yeah. Very willing one. Hard to resist carrying all your favorite books around with you.

What’s not working / what the Kindle 2 needs:

  • Having to shoot stuff to @free.kindle.com to get it converted. Sure, there’s a convertor already out there for PC, but nothing for Mac yet. Supposedly there’s some way to use http://issuu.com/ and the Stanza Desktop, but still, can’t Amazon give us something that’s surefire? Just, mailing my files in to get them made up for the Kindle 2, I feel like I’m both burning bandwidth and playing a part in some usage survey (surely Amazon’s keeping stats on all the @free.kindle.com conversions, hopefully not with an eye towards establishing a ‘subscriber’ base to woo advertizers with, because I don’t need banners on my Kindle 2). I mean, I understand the impulse towards proprietary file formats as protection against piracy, I guess, but, too, piracy’s going to happen, DRM or not. Best bet’s to find some other part of the process to ‘tax.’
  • Removeable storage. So you can have a ‘beach’ chip, ‘school’ chip, ‘work’ chip, etc. Like Sony’s eReader, yeah. Seems so obvious, or, conversely, such a trick from the Apple playbook, which is kind of a study in paranoia.
  • A print function? Or at least a viewer for our desktop/laptop rigs that we can print from? With our marginalia? For teaching purposes mostly. Just, please, don’t make us buy both the digital, for reading, and the paper, for teaching. Dealing with that, we’re likely just to do something different altogether. Caveat: I’ve yet to study that Kindle 2 Cookbook in-depth; supposedly it tells how to print, and do about everything else I’m complaining about in here (yep, it does — just checked. it’s via screenshot tricks, however, so no marginalia. but you can always draw on the print-ups.
  • If we get a stylus to draw on the text with for the Kindle 3, then why not go ahead and put a clicker on it, like on the back end of a retractable pen? A clicker to turn pages with remotely. Or, click it fast-twice to start/stop the text-to-voice, the mp3 player, whatever. And yeah, like with the Nintendo DS and all those, these styluses would need to be cheap and replaceable, please, and easily mated with one and only one device, lest chaos rear its head at the coffee shop, where everybody’s brought their status symbol to read in public.
  • Buttons that, simply put — and I’m no wimp, I don’t think — push easier. Or that at least push evenly. The ones on the Kindle 2, at first I thought they just needed some breaking in, had stiff springs for the long haul, but then I lucked onto the probably-obvious thing going on: if you depress the side of them that’s closer to the screen, then they push a lot easier. Which may be a safety thing, I don’t know. But it takes some effort anyway. And maybe I am a wimp. Or, yeah, used to just turning paper pages, which, though they tear sometimes, still never weigh that much.
  • More about buttons: the placement of these is perfect for reading when sitting up. But that’s maybe ten-percent of my total reading time. Which is to say they’re not placed so perfectly for reading while kicked back on the couch. Specifically, wouldn’t it be nice to have a ‘next page’ clicker of some sort on the back/right of the Kindle 2? Though a back/next button top-right wouldn’t be bad either. But then, yeah, I’m right-handed. Ned Flanders would probably have some other idea here.
  • It really and truly sucks having to load everything as a book on the Kindle 2. ‘Everything’ meaning stories, essays, images. Give us some directory/file control, please? Pretty pretty please? I’m usually pretty good at tinkering around in stuff, getting it organized like I want, so that the TOC doesn’t spill across forty-two pages (which the Kindle 2 then pages through with excrutiating slowness, as if it wants to show each page off), but this time I can’t get anything done. I mean, for photos, instead of loading them individually, even with the same “zzz_” lead-in of a file name or whatever — they’re still considered ‘books’ by the Kindle 2, and take forever to browse — I finally had to just rig together a multi-page MSWord doc, with one photo per page, then get it converted, then load it; at least now I can page through the photos, treat them something like an album (consider them plates if you have to: I know the Kindle 2’s for text, not pictures of your dog). Even then, though, I still can’t seem to crack into how to get that file/album into Personal Docs — can’t figure how to get anything in there, really. But maybe that’s just me. Does the extension tell Kindle 2 where to put the file, maybe? Near as I can tell, no. And, while your file manager will of course let you make as many new directories as you want in there, still, the Kindle 2 doesn’t seem to want to recognize them, even on a reboot. Who knows. Somebody tell me the how here, please (okay, just studied that Kindle 2 Cookbook, and it does have a directory-making trick for pictures, anyway, but the output is still considered a ‘book’ by the Kindle 2, so I think I’ll just stick with my converted MSWord doc).
  • The ability (privilege?) to change the screensaver images. Nothing against Austen and Dickinson and the rest2 of the public-domain literati, but I’ve got my own literary heroes too, yeah? Force a canon on us, I mean, and we, the readers, tend to just go play somewhere else.
  • The option to turn off that ‘download progress’ percentage way of rendering book pages Kindle 2 seems very proud of. That’s not what reading is, is it? I’d much rather have the watered-down version of that, anyway: “p.17 of 459,” something like that. And, yes, I do understand that “p.17” on a reader where you can manipulate text-size is an experience that can go on for screens and screens, but, I don’t know: task somebody smart with a way to ‘qualify’ that 17, such that “17” is sitting in some incomplete circle, how incomplete being a marker of how much of p.17 this screen is. It has to be elegant, I mean, and not intrusive. Caveat/plea: if we do have to keep that percentage dowload progress bar along the bottom, can it at least, when you get to the end of the book, read “100%”? As-is, it won’t budge past “99%,” so I never really feel like I’m done with anything. One last thing about page numbers: it sure would be excellent if ‘pages‘ 17 could by synched up with the print-version — should a print version exist. That way you could be on the phone with somebody, you on a Kindle 2, them lost in a paper book, and you could direct them to a certain passage. Or, direct your class to that passage. I mean, the ‘search’ function that comes with paper books, yeah, it’s not quite as efficient as the one built into the Kindle 2.
  • A backlight. Make it work with e-paper, and come up with some magical battery to juice it. Obviously. Thank you in advance, Amazon. This is the feature that can will make the Kindle-line catch on fire, I think. Even more.
  • And, while I’m making a wishlist: color. So we can read comics3 (or even House of Leaves4) digitally, with no loss. Sure, we’d have to get pretty nimble with that five-way, going from panel-to-panel, but hey: that’s not the worst trade-off. Maybe even integrate some ‘gestures’-system into the touch-screen to facilitate that kind of textual mobility?
  • Also, and this isn’t really an Amazon trick, I don’t think, but what I’d really like is if, at the bottom of news items and blog posts and whatever on-line, there were some “K2” button at the bottom, like the DiggIt-stuff, the de.li.co.us-stuff: I could zap the post to my Kindle 2. Which is what I’m doing now with articles and essays, but it involves cutting them out in rich text, pasting them into Word, saving that document, mailing it to Amazon, that whole process. Simplify it, I say. One-click, an email address, and bam, you’ve got it.

And that’s the gist of it for/from me. But an important, maybe the important, question remains: have my shelves stopped growing, now? will my collection stop eating rain forests? By last check (see: ‘last move’), I had twelve-or-so thousand pounds of books I couldn’t even consider tossing. However, with external storage — even just using my hard-drive to archive — I could, were it all digitial, get that total down to half a pound or so, counting hardware. Would I be losing anything, though? The smell of the pages, the heft of one of those doorstops we use as escape hatches5, the surprise of notes from some ‘Myrna’ in the margins, who lived and died before I was even born? The author inscribing the title page?

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Barry Lopez’s Whiting Award Talk

Here. Keeping this so short so you can read him instead. It’s so good, so right.

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Lost in the Funhouse (with a television set)

So, the LOST writers claim not to be lost at all. They’re not just reeling the episodes out from nothing. It’s all going somewhere, somehow, some perfect way. Moreover (first time I’m using that word. cool, yeah?), they also guarantee that this crazy upside-down inside-out unfantasy island, it’s not some form of limbo or purgatory, where dead non-MILLENIUM (the Kristofferson one) plane passengers go, and I’m guessing they’ve probably — and this would just be good marketing, because the audience right now needs the stories they ingest to ‘matter,’ where ‘mattering’ is pretty much qualified by how ‘real’ or ‘truthy’ the thing is, which, in LOST’s case, comes down to, well this: —* also suggested in some sidelong way that neither is this some side-dimension, some parallel reality. Rather, it’s our world, it’s deeper into our world, it’s the world we could step into at any moment, as establised by six famous ones actually stepping back into what would seem to be our world.

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The Missing Image

From Ledfeather. Was digging through an old box today and came across it, but now can’t find it on my hard-drive. Anyway, it’s the one I talk about in the author’s note at the end — the one that pretty much started the whole novel. It was supposed to get included in the book, too, an endpaper, on the back cover, something, but somehow isn’t. So, in lieu, here it is now (lo-res, last-minute scan, sorry).

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Demon Theory afterward Afterword

If only I could. But this would definitely be in there, right along with the TOTALL RECALL/2001 saga:

“The ‘Road to Perdition’ novelization was a nightmare, frankly,” Collins says. “I went after it for obvious reasons — I didn’t want a ‘Perdition’ novel written by someone else out there. I proceeded to write the best novelization of my career, staying faithful to David Self’s script — which was already fairly faithful to my graphic novel — but fleshed out the script with characterization, expanded dialogue scenes and just generally turning it into a quality novel of around 100,000 words. After I submitted it and had the New York editor say it was the best tie-in novel he’d ever read, the licensing person at DreamWorks required me to cut everything in the novel that wasn’t in the script. That I was the creator of the property held no sway. I was made to butcher the book down to 40,000 words.”

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Neal Stephenson

from wired

As scanned injudiciously from the current Wired! :

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Around the Net in 8o Seconds

Though, to be honest, I don’t even think there’s links yet for just all of this:

Right before Valentine’s Day 2009, I’m in Chicago for the AWP Conference. The panel I’m on: “Digi-Analog: Bringing Together Print, Online, and Alternative Delivery Methods for Literary Journals, led by JW Wang. You may know him from Juked.” Don’t which day that panel is yet. I think I said this earlier, but can do it better now: March 18-21, 2009, it’s FC2’s annual Writers on the Edge. This year in Ceurnevaca. Not sure if I’m released yet to post the workshop descripts for the other writers doing this, but I’ll post mine anyway:

ANAEROBICIZE YOUR PROSE
So one argument and I don’t necessarily disbelieve it is that punctuation is just a parasite that all it is is the side effect of writing words down in these lines that it’s just a clumsy visual approximation of the natural rhythms of speech that in prose fiction are pretty much exactly what’s supposed to lull the reader into a state where the story can work or or a better way to say it maybe is that that unbroken patter and burble and spike of words is what transports the reader not off the page but into it face first ankle deep and evermore. But yeah, sometimes a comma sure is nice, right? Here we’ll talk about this, both in terse, nervous, over-punctuated sentences we try to laugh off and in long unbroken fragments that wander and forget themselves and then find each other in surprising ways. And we’ll do some writing as well. And never stop

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Dung Butterfly Teeth Man Box

Man, the subject lines of my junkmail are just getting better and better. There’s a thousand monkeys out there, and they’re cranking out something, anyway. But, not what I’m here to say this time. What I’m here to say: Woody Harrelson makes movies better. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, though he’s just in it for a bit, coudn’t have really happened without him either, I don’t think. To say nothing at all of the over-the-top just plain old coolness of having Stephen Root and Barry Corbin in the same movie. I mean, on-screen it was CHEERS and NEWSRADIO and NORTHERN EXPOSURE, all swirling around in some THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA-version of Tommy Lee Jones. Excellent. Loved it. More than the novel even. Too, just as an example of the Coen Brothers’ attention to detail this time around: when Chigurh’s studying Moss’s phone bill, the area code for Odessa is “915,” which is what it was in 1980 (and up until a few years ago). I don’t know — give the Coens a good, dry place, and they’ll cook you up a good movie, I think. RAISING ARIZONA, BLOOD SIMPLE. Maybe in the desert, whether the horse has a name or not, the only thing to really focus on is a craggly face and a sarcastic line or two, delivered perfectly then punctuated by a lot of nothing. Which the Coens can handle and handle well.

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Trick or Treat

Just three four FIVE fast things, as I’m spending most of the day being properly foolish:

  • What I wouldn’t give to be hitting this haunted house.
  • That Asimov’s with my “do(this)” is on the shelves (the cover’s below the fold here, here. click it to go to the site).
  • This is great (“Reaper Madness”).
  • I’ve got a post over at Slushpile today, here.
  • The NBA’s going again, which, you’d think it’d greatly slow down the thing I’m writing right now (a slasher screenplay), but, it usually works the other way. Kobe & Co. pretty much just serve to remind me that writing’s what I do. Or, I mean, what I do, anyway, it’s definitely not basketball, at least not how they play it.
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