Category Archives: Books

Books I am reading or have read.

Ebooks explode this week

This week, ebooks were all over the tech news, and there were at least two huge announcements. Well, one announcement, and one not-so-secret launch coming Monday.

The announcement was the Google Book mobile service, which gives users access to 1.5 million books from the Google Book scanning project OCR’d and formatted for mobile screens, like those of the G1 and the iPhone. In one fell swoop, Google has made these platforms the home of the largest electronic book library in the world…the Amazon Kindle store currently has 230,000 books, while Project Gutenberg has just over 100,000.

The upcoming announcement is that almost certainly on Monday, Amazon will announce the Kindle version 2. Leaked photos make the v2 look sleeker, more updated, and with much better physical form-factor. What I’m most excited about is the possibility of v.2 of the software, which better UI and possibly more features. As long, of course, as the software is ported back to the original hardware.

Are these the things that will finally push ebooks firmly into the public consciousness? Time will tell, but I can hope.

Heinlein's Humans

Robert Heinlein famously said:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

In the spirit of the myriad “25 random facts” and such, I’m going to suggest that we see how close some of us are to Heinlein’s ideal. Here’s the quote again, with things I’ve actually done in bold, things I think I could do in italics, and things I can’t do in regular type:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

I must admit, I’ve never actually butchered a hog, but I’ve seen it done, and I’ve butchered both deer and squirrel, and I’ve dissected everything from a small pig to rats and mice. So I think I could handle that.  I’m helping to design a library right now, so I think that counts. And yes, I’ve shoveled manure in my time…cleaning out barn stalls.

So I still need to figure out how to conn a ship, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. I’m pretty sure I could plan an invasion, but don’t really want to find out. I’ve never built a wall, but I understand basic physics, so I think I’m good there. I’ve taken umpteen first aid classes, and had extensive physiology/anatomy classes, so setting a bone could be done, I’m pretty sure. Fighting and dying are both not really something I want to try out. But that’s not too bad a reckoning, right?

Amazon buys Shelfari

So in a pretty convoluted story with a straightforward beginning, Amazon has announced that it will be purchasing the social book network Shelfari. Just last month, Amazon also purchased AbeBooks…which is a minority investor in LibraryThing.

*boggle*

So Amazon buys a competitor to a service that they, in effect, already own part of. I can see them wanting Shelfari for the interface, especially as part of a “next generation” Kindle device. But Shelfari doesn’t have much else for Amazon to want, honestly…Shelfari relies on the Amazon book data to begin with, so they don’t have any data that will improve Amazon in any way (except the little bit of social data that can be scraped from the site).

There’s a long discussion about this over on LibraryThing, where Tim is talking the thing out in his open and transparent style. I don’t think this is going to hurt LibraryThing at all…they have better book data, for one, and Amazon now has to fit Shelfari into its systems, which will take a looooong time.

Has anyone seen a value given for the Shelfari acquisition? I’m curious what Amazon paid for them.

Here’s hoping this doesn’t cause Tim too many sleepless nights.

How broken is copyright in the US?

copyright symbolHow broken is copyright in the US? So broken that if you look at two different books, both published by the same publisher (Dodd, Mead & Co.), in the same year (1940), both with copyright notices, and neither with a copyright renewal…one is currently protected by copyright, and the other is in the public domain.

An amazing article by Peter B. Hirtle entitled Copyright Renewal, Copyright Restoration, and the Difficulty of Determining Copyright Status outlines this case, and others that are equally frustrating. Fascinating stuff, and shows how truly broken intellectual property laws are in the current market, with the necessity of international reciprocation and ever-increasing ridiculous time limits. Not to mention that the very model is now shattered with the digital revolution…even without the digital, copyright needs an overhaul. With it? It needs cleansed with fire.

Pick a random book in your library that was published between 1923 and 1964, and check this chart, and see if you can tell if it’s still protected. Now multiply that by a few ten million books, and see what kind of crazy legal situation our legislatures have gotten us into.

Cryptonomicon via tag cloud

Two tag cloud posts in a row is a bit much, but I had the idea, so I went with it. This is an infographic of the word frequency of the text of the novel Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Cryptonomicon

It’s a really interesting way to visualize texts (as I’ve pointed out before). So let’s see if I can start a meme. Doesn’t have to be a new book, you can pick one from Project Gutenberg…there certainly are enough good books there. Pick your favorite (or one of your favorites), and post it up.

I’m tagging: Iris, Amanda and Tombrarian.

Library Blogging

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It’s here! It’s really here! For more news about the book, and general updates and such, visit the blog for the book: Library Blogging. I’ll talk more after I’ve had a chance to review it again, but so far it looks great.

For those going to ALA, Linworth Publishing is booth #2553, if you want to stop by and pick up a copy of the book.

Kindle in flames?

Two days before I received my Kindle, Roy Tennant published an article on his Digital Libraries blog entitled “Prediction: The Kindle goes down in flames“. I normally agree with Roy on lots of things, but this is a topic where I’m going to pick on him a little.

Let’s rewind to October of 2001, where a plucky little company named Apple released a strange new product called an iPod. With 5 gigabytes of storage, this pocket-sized marvel cost….$399. What did it do? It played music. That’s all it did. Moreover, it only connected to your computer via an esoteric plug called “Firewire” that 90% of the personal computers in the world didn’t have.

It took Apple 3 financial quarters to sell over 200,000 of them, and it wasn’t until 2004 and the cost per gigabyte dropped under $20/GB and the iPod was on it’s third generation that sales really took off.

The Kindle, for all the publicity it has garnered, is only 8 months old. Is it the perfect reading device? I’m not sure yet. I’ve been consuming ebooks for years, beginning with reading them on my Handspring Visor Deluxe in mid-2000. I’ve read them on cell phones, computer screens, and other PDA’s. And I can say without any reservation that after 24 hours with the Kindle that it is a completely new and better reading experience.

The advantages for the Kindle are twofold: a device customized for reading makes reading easier, and the device comes from Amazon. The Kindle is great for reading, not suffering from the issues that, for example, the iPhone might…primarily the issue that an LCD screen just isn’t very good for reading in any form of bright light. The device is driven by Amazon, who has the reach and power in the publishing industry to get books for the device (take a look at the difference between any other ebook provider’s numbers and Amazon’s). Amazon also has the infrastructure to support immediate electronic delivery of any ebook they carry, directly to the device. Anyone else doing that?

The Kindle does several things (it does not, contrary to Tennant’s assertion “only read books”). It allows for reading, annotating, bookmarking, dictionary lookup, and other common reading chores. It also comes with permanent free cellular internet service. Amazon Whispernet gives you, while not a full web experience, a browser and access to the ‘net anywhere you can get a Sprint cell signal. For no additional cost past the cost of the device. Seriously, how much is that worth over a year?

With all that said, I’ve only had the Kindle for less than 48 hours. I wasn’t going to buy one so early in the development cycle, but do I regret having one now? Hell no. It’s a marvelous piece of technology for readers, and I fully expect that in a couple of years I’ll still be toting it around from conference to conference in lieu of a few pounds worth of wood pulp.

If anyone wants to take a look at the Kindle, find me at ALA Annual, and I’ll happily let you play with it. Just holding it, seeing the screen, and seeing how much thought went into the design will make a difference, I promise.

EDIT

Steve Lawson, in the comments, pointed out something that I wanted to address. Tim O’Reilly, in a comment on Roy’s post, says:

“I also struggle with Amazon’s DRM and sole-source approach, which seems to me to be a flawed copy of Apple’s iPod strategy, missing not only Apple’s brilliant design but also the positive externality that consumers could easily add their own music collection to the device by ripping mp3s.”

I am no fan of DRM, and I admit that it gives me pause regarding the Kindle. That said, the “sole-source” approach isn’t true…the Kindle happily ingests any .mobi file you want, and there are plenty of places sourcing native Kindle files of public domain books. First thing I did was put a few dozen of my favorite classics on there, for free. As well, if I had an easy way to digitize the books I already own (in the same rough manner of the digitization of my CDs) I would be doing it, and adding them. The issue there isn’t with the Kindle, it’s that there is no easy digitization of dead trees.

It's coming…

Very soon, you too can own this very lovely book. Proofs are done, galleys are done, everything on our end is done, done, and done. We’re officially at the printers, folks!

Library Blogging is suitable as a gift for any occasion, and you can pre-order now (pre-order? No, just order, I think) at Amazon…go here and order! Or just wait until I have dozens of copies that I can’t possibly get rid of, and offer me a couple of bucks. Your choice.

Snow Crash

Betsy surprised me a few days ago with this, which she claims is either a late birthday or early father’s day present: a signed, numbered, limited edition of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.IMG_3153.JPG

It’s put out by Subterranean Press, and is gorgeous. Subterranean is a press that specialized in high quality printings of limited edition fantasy, scifi, and horror…I want to own nearly everything they print.

But for now, I will just stare and covet my copy of my preciou….I mean, Snow Crash.