November 19th, 2014
There’s a surprising announcement on the front-page of Amazon. “Limited time only…” it reads. Amazon’s color Fire HD7 tablet is now just $119!
It’s a “thank-you sale”, according to Amazon. Customers voted Amazon into the #1 spot — “highest in customer satisfaction” for tablets — in a survey of by J.D. Powers. Apple’s iPad came up short, finishing second, and in third place was Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. But Amazon was so excited, they’ve rushed out a discount on their Fire HD 7 tablets.
Normally it retails for $139, but Amazon’s offering a special 15% discount. If you want an even cheaper tablet, Amazon also offers a six-inch “Fire HD 6″ tablet Fire for just $99. You may even start to wonder if Amazon’s selling these at a loss, because Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 4 costs a full $199. Amazon’s tablet has the exact same high-resolution display — with 216 pixels per inch — and the same two built-in cameras. And of course, Fire HD 7 tablets are available in five different colors (Yellow, Pink, Blue, Black, and White)!
But the low price may be helping Amazon in more ways than one. The voting for “highest satisfaction” was incredibly close, and on a scale of 1 to 1,000 the top three tablets were all within six points of each other. Amazon beat Apple by just three points, and Samsung’s tablets were just three more points behind. For years Apple had always won the “highest satisfaction” award, every year that the survey was taken, in an unbroken streak, according to Computerworld — until the end of 2013, when they faced a surprise upset by Samsung’s tablets.
Ironically, Apple iPad’s reclaimed the #1 spot in the “highest satisfaction” survey release May of 2014, but only to lose it again this month — to Amazon! It was Amazon’s “Mayday” feature that customers seemed to like, according to another article in Computerworld. They’d interviewed a senior director at the surveying company, who explained that after talking to 2,700 tablet owners all acros America, they saw a surprising jump in Amazon’s popularity. After finishing fourth in the May survey, “I figured [Amazon’s] scores would improve, but I didn’t think they’d take the top spot!”
Today Amazon is blasting the news. “Fire tablets ranked ‘Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Tablets,’ screams the announcement on their front page. But of course, it’s also becoming a win for holiday shoppers.
“To say thanks, save $20 on Fire HD 7 — limited time only…”
November 8th, 2014
“When it first arrived from Amazon, I didn’t know what it was,” says a little girl in Amazon’s new online ad. And she wasn’t alone — I was also stumped by Thursday’s announcement of Amazon Echo. But it looks like Amazon has created an entirely new category of device!
But let’s let Amazon have the first word. Their ad shows a family — the dad is excited — opening a newly-arrived package from Amazon. We learn that Echo is always on, but it only hears you when you say a “wake” word out loud: Alexa. “Alexa, what do you do?” asks the father.
“I can play music, answer questions, get the news and weather, create to-do lists, and much more.”
“Awesome!” says the family’s teenaged son. “Alexa, play rock music.” And she does!
It’s a little black cylinder — just over 9 inches tall, and three inches wide. (Imagine bending the top of a ruler to get a sense of its size…) And Amazon’s ad shows a surprising number of cases where Echo would come in handy. How tall is Mt. Everest? How do you spell cantaloupe? How many teaspoons in a tablespoon? What day is this?
Echo answers every question — and can even launch your music playlists whenever you ask. A “companion app” lets you control the device from your phone (or your Kindle tablet). Amazon’s Echo device can also function as a gentle alarm clock, or deliver “flash news briefings” from your local radio stations (or ESPN, or NPR…) And I was impressed that Echo even recognizes te command “Tell me a joke!”
With Echo you can also add things to your shopping list — or a to-do list — just by saying them out loud. I wasn’t sure what it was — but it didn’t fool the headline writers at Apple Insider, who called it “a stand-alone Siri-like assistant for your home.” But it seems to me that’s missing the point, since Siri is only on when it’s back in your charger (and not in your pocket). Imagine having a separate device in your home, just for taking dictation or providing a voice-activated way to instantly look up information.
Best of all, it’s only $99 — if you’re an Amazon Prime member, and you’re lucky enough to get an “invitation” from Amazon to try it out. Echo will ultimately be tapping “the cloud” for some of its information — along with Wikipedia — so Amazon may want to first try a “soft roll-out” with just a smaller number of users. When it’s released to the general public, Echo will retail for $199.
Echo can stream music from Pandora, Spotify, and even from iTunes. And of course, it also plays music from your Amazon Music Library, as well as the 1 million-plus songs available through Amazon Prime Music. And honestly, it seems like it’d make a really awesome Christmas gift.
“Alexa, play ‘Tonight, We Are Young’ by fun….”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s Echo page, point your browser to
October 31st, 2014
I have a special holiday tradition. Each year on Halloween, I creep up on the Kindle Store, and take a peek at just how many zombie titles have crawled out into the marketplace. On Halloween night in 2011, there were 2,269 different Kindle ebooks with their word “zombie” in their title. But by 2012, that number had more than doubled to more than 4,874, and it nearly doubled again in 2013, to 8,052 zombie titles.
And this year? OMG!
Amazon’s Kindle store now has 11,430 zombie ebooks!
I’ve joked about the “rising zombie ebook invasion,” but the numbers really do show an unmistakeable trend. One Halloween, I noticed that one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store was something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. But the real message may be that each Halloween, there’s more and more self-published authors who are writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress only has 783 books with the word “zombie” in their title (up from just 523 in 2011 and 674 in 2013). Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store now has nearly 15 times as many zombies!!!
Even if they’re not real zombies, there’s something that’s almost viral about their popularity, suggesting that the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros. Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!
Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.
To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 1996 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.
But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.
I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.
I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.
Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…
That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.
It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!
There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”
Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)
And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…
This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks.
And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of a Sherlock Holmes story, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.
In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.
Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management
And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)
A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan
There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their own imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…
So I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”
Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!
October 28th, 2014
Every year I enjoy the whole week before Halloween — and not just that new chill in the air or the dead leaves blowing by. There’s a special mood for the end of October, and it’s the perfect time to try reading some of the greatest scary stories ever written. Especially since now, they’re all available as free Kindle ebooks!
And Kindle Unlimited subscribers can even listen to their audiobook versions for free!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Ichabod Crane had heard the ghost stories about a headless horseman that rides through the night. On that very night, traveling home alone himself, under the light of a full moon he has his own legendary encounter with…ah, but there’s a twist at the end. And all these years after first hearing the story, I’ve discovered it’s just part of a much larger work. Washington Irving was the very first best-selling author in America, and he’d followed up his first sensational debut with a new collection of essays and stories — including some scary new folk tales that he’d actually made up himself! This collection also includes the famous story of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep before the American Revolution — and wakes up 20 years later, after the colonies have revolted and formed their own independent nation!
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a surprising number of America’s best-known horror stories, including Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. His poetry is also very dark — Ulalume actually takes place around Halloween night — but his obsession with morbid themes also ultimately led him to become the author of the first detective story every written. It’s a murder mystery, of course — you’ll never guess who actually committed The Murders in the Rue Morgue — and Poe later even wrote two more stories using the same detective — The Mystery of Marie Rogêt and The Purloined Letter. But there’s also a surprisingly scary tale where a murderer is unmasked in the most shocking way possible — entitled “Thou Art the Man”. Twist endings were actually very popular in Poe’s time, and I’ve been surprised just how well some of his stories hold up!
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Percy Shelley died when he was 29 — though he was acclaimed as one of England’s greatest romantic poets. Some of this is through the efforts of his wife Mary, who promoted and edited his poems. And it’s been said that he may have had an infleunce himself on her intense novel, Frankenstein. Its idea came from a nightmare, and turned into her gothic story about about a promising young man who suffers the death of a loved one, and then embarks on a scientific experiment which he’ll later come to regret. It was first published anonymously in 1818, though it’s since gone on to become a classic monster story. (And Wikipedia has uncovered another strange historical twist. Mary WollstonecraftShelley was actually romantically interested in Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow!)
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Written just 126 years ago, Dracula is relatively modern for a classic horror story. Its author, Bram Stoker actually died in poverty just 14 years after publishing Dracula, according to Wikipedia, and his horror novel didn’t become popular until well into the next century. (It just goes to show how the invention of moving pictures changed everything — including the way we experienced our monster stories.) But interestingly, an early fan of the novel was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the Sherlock Holmes series. If you reach back 100 years, you’ll find lots of clever authors who appreciated both mystery and menace — and the joys of a good scary novel.
And 100 years later, you can read them all for free on your Kindle!
October 21st, 2014
Here’s a Halloween treat! Amazon’s dropping the price for the Charlie Brown Halloween app for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. It’s a special surprise that just might bring back some fond memories of “hallowed evenings” past. And I feel a little smile every time I see tbe title: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Last year I passed out our trick-or-treat candy while entertaining myself with this app. It recreates the classic TV special perfectly, with the original voices and a nearly identical artwork — except now the story is interactive! Linus is still spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, but you can actually poke your fingers into the drawings to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!
Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on any of your color Kindle tablets or on any Android device! And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration. (Which you can turn on and off…) But best of all, it’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork even laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s big pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!
If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon for the black-and-white Kindles. I love “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.
But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.
Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween
October 15th, 2014
Amazon’s just announced a big sale on their Kindle Fire HDX — a $20 discount! “Built for work and play” reads their headline, describing “the 7″ tablet with an with an ultra-fast quad-core processor, powerful graphics engine, world-class Dolby Audio, a perfect-color HDX display, and Mayday.” Now you can get a new one for just $179!
It used to cost $50 more when it was first released, but even then its reviews were amazing. “Far better than an iPad,” wrote one reporter at ZDNet, adding “what Apple bought to market, Amazon has improved upon dramatically.” Even at $229, its price was much lower, but there were also more tangible benefits too. “Side-by-side, the display on the Kindle Fire HDX blows away that of the iPad.
“Not only do the colors look superior and more vivid, but also the brightness is better and the way blacks are handled – especially in video – is much more even…”
Of course, Amazon has even cheaper tablets. I’m amazed that a Fire HD 6 now costs just $99, and the Fire HD 7 is just $139. But the HDX has a stunning high-definition display (with 323 pixels per inch), and a faster quad-core processor which makes it extra responsive. Even its battery will last 11 hours without a charge
But the best thing about the Kindle Fire HDX may be its special on-device “Mayday” button. You can actually summon a live Amazon representative whenever you want, so any technical issues can be resolved instantly. Yes, some Amazon customers abuse the privilege with silly questions like “Will you read me a bedtime story?” But when I’ve got a technical problem with my device, I want it gone just as soon as possible.
Because then I can go back to having fun with my high-definition tablet…!
October 8th, 2014
We all love reading Kindle ebooks, but today I noticed a very special page on Amazon. Their own editor’s had assembled a collection of what they considered the best new books of October. It’s a great selection of brand new books and Kindle ebooks — and a fun way to browser for something new to read..
Amazon’s editors even broke down their selections into 16 different categories. (There’s the best new biographies, children’s picture books, and even the best new Graphic Novels…) “We’re happy to share with you the unique mix of books that our editors have hand picked as this month’s best,” Amazon says at the top of the page. Here’s a look at some of their picks for the most interesting new ebooks of October.
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
His last book, Steve Jobs, became a record-breaking best-seller (based on 40 interviews between the author and Jobs over the last two years before his death). Now Walter Isaacson looks beyond Apple Computers to the other pioneers — both past and present. Steve Wozniak gets some attention, along with Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Tim Berners-Lee. But Isaacson also looks back to female pioneer Ada Lovelace who in the 1840s wrote about an “analytical engine” proposed by Charles Babbage — and also wrote the very first computer program.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
Maybe you remember him from How I Met Your Mother. (Or from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle…) But this Tuesday, Neil Patrick Harris takes his unpredictible personna to a whole new format. “Tired of memoirs that only tell you what really happened…reads his books description on Amazon. “Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the ” back in ‘aUtobiography’…?” Calling it “a Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative”, Harris has written an entire autobiography that’s written in the second person — all about you!
“You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.
“Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas…”
Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
After more than a decade, Anne Rice returns to her “Vampire Chronicles” series with a new 480-page novel about the vampire prince Lestat. “The newly resurrected, but no less rebellious, Lestat addresses a mysterious twenty-first century vampire genocide,” Amazon writes in their description of the book, “with the same panache, self-absorption, and drama readers have come to know and love. ” The book jumps from the present to the past, and its sprawling story “raises interesting questions about the boundaries of science, conflicting beliefs, and a universal need to belong”. Even more interesting, the book has already become Amazon’s best-selling suspense novels — three weeks before the book is released on October 28th!
“Go Add Value Someplace Else: A Dilbert Book” by Scott Adams
Scott Adams will release a brand new collection of Dilbert cartoons in just three weeks (on October 28th). And the Kindle edition is just $8.49. For past collections, at least some Amazon reviewers complained that the cartoons were hard to read on their small handheld Kindles. But comic strips have always looked great on the larger screens of Amazon’s Kindle full-color tablets — so hopefully this collection will find a happy audience of satisfied readers!
point your browser to
October 3rd, 2014
There’s some great discounts in the Kindle Store this month. Every month Amazon picks 100 Kindle ebooks for a steep discount, with most of the books selling for $1.99 or less! And this month there’s some ebooks that I’m really excited about.
A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ($1.99)
“Exhilarating…. Profoundly moving, occasionally angry, and often hilarious…” wrote The New York Times Book Review — and this was one of the most intriguing memoirs I’ve ever read. A surprisingly funny and entertaining memoir about what happens to two sons when their parents both die of cancer, the Times writes that it “manages to be simultaneously hilarious and wildly inventive as well as a deeply heartfelt story of the love that holds a family together.” It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, according to Wikipedia, and The London Times also named it one of the best books of the entire decade. When it was first released in 2000, Time magazine called it “The Best Book of the Year”, and it’s one of those rare books that you’ll never forget.
Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1 ($3.99)
Marvel comic books are a guilty pleasure, so it’s great when they’re collected together into a big “graphic novel” for your Kindle. “Deadpool Classic” brings you 264 pages — nine full issues! — for just $3.99, starting with the four issues of Deadpool’s very first mini-series — and also the four issues of his next mini-series. Deadpool eventually got his own ongoing title, and this graphic novel also includes that as its final story. Like the She-Hulk, Deadpool actually “breaks the fourth wall,” talking directly to readers, which makes this collection a special treat. And if you’re interested in more Deadpool comics, Amazon’s also discounting another graphic novel — Deadpool: Dead Head Redemption — to just $3.99!
Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warrior by Stephen Ambrose ($1.99)
I’ve always loved how Stephen Ambrose describes history. Little Bighorn, Montana saw the moment when General Custer launched a his infamous attack on 3,000 Indian warriors led by native American war leader Crazy Horse. “Both were men of aggression and supreme courage,” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “Both became leaders in their societies at very early ages. Both were stripped of power, in disgrace, and worked to earn back the respect of their people.
“And to both of them, the unspoiled grandeur of the Great Plains of North America was an irresistible challenge….”
And if you’ve got a subscription to the Kindle Unlimited service, this ebook is free!
Classic Goosebumps #1: Night of the Living Dummy by R. L. Stine ($1.99)
Just in time for Halloween, Amazon’s discounting a great tale about a ventriloquist’s dummy. One reviewer on Amazon described it as children’s horror literature, adding that Night of the Living Dummy “is quite possibly the greatest Goosebumps book ever written…” That’s no small claim, since there’s over 60 different books in the series, and It’s hard to underestimate the huge popularity of the series. Over 350 million Goosebumps titles have been sold, and one newspaper even called their author the Stephen King of children’s books. So it’s especially nice that for Halloween, Amazon’s discounting one of the very first books in the series, which they’re lovingly describing as a “fan-favorite thriller and chiller”. (And it even includes new bonus material — about the scary ventriloquist dummy who comes to life…!)
September 30th, 2014
I love baseball — but even if you’re just looking for a good novel, there’s still some great Kindle ebooks about the drama behind the sport. It seems to attract a special brand of optimism, and some surprisingly thoughtful commentary. Words like “triumph” and “hope” are just fancy ways of saying that people fight hard over the course of a lifetime, to try to realize their dreams. And with this year’s post-season about to begin, here’s my picks for the very best Kindle ebooks about baseball.
Ball Four: the Final Pitch by Jim Bouton
I’ve always loved this rollicking memoir by a baseball player, which in 1970 became the best-selling sports book of all-time for its wild and funny stories about the major leagues. And Amazon is now selling the Kindle edition of “Ball Four: The Final Pitch”, which includes a fascinating look back — more than 25 years later — by the book’s original author! Ball Four was extremely controversial when it was first published — simply because it was so shockingly candid. (Author Jim Bouton remembers when the San Diego Padres “burned the book and left the charred remains for me to find in the visitors clubhouse…” adding that “All that hollering and screaming sure sold books!”)
Bouton describes Ball Four as “the kinds of stories an observant next-door neighbor might come home and tell if he ever spent some time with a major-league team,” and one of his teammates described Bouton as “the first fan to make it to the major leagues”. Bouton went from pitching in the World Series with the New York Yankees to Seattle’s forgotten expansion team (the Seattle Pilots ) before being traded to the Houston Astros — but he collects together all the lore and the secret taboos of professional baseball in what Time magazine once called one of the 100 greatest non-fiction books ever published.
Coach by Michael Lewis
The author of Moneyball also wrote this heartfelt memoir about his own high school baseball coach, and what young Michael Lewis had learned when he took the pitcher’s mound in a crucial 9th inning… Lewis remembers coach Fitz as “a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound minor-league catcher with the face of a street fighter hollering at the top of his lungs for three straight hours.” The eighth grade students were afraid of him, and his intensity spawned legends about just how tough Coach Fitz really was. Yet when the pressure is finally on, “Fitz leaned down, put his hand on my should and, thrusting his face right up to mine, became as calm as the eye of a storm. It was just him and me now; we were in this together… ” And by the end of the story, I was convinced that this 96-page book would make a wonderful gift for a teacher — or maybe even for anybody who’s a parent.
And again if you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, it’s free!
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris
“From here on out, I rag on nobody…” It’s been called one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the movies, but it stems from a stunning 1956 novel. Author Mark Harris wrote four novels about the life of a major league catcher, but this is the novel that people always remember. Robert De Niro starred in the film adaptation — one of his first starring roles at the age of 30 — but the “voice” of the narrator in this novel is impossible to forget. There’s something about sports fiction that makes authors want to reach even further, and this novel follows the same path, describing a friendship between two men that grows slowly as they face an even bigger challenge beyond the baseball diamond.
Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck
This book contains one of my all-time favorite baseball stories, about the day that Eddie Gaedel stepped up to bat. Eddie Gaedel was 3′ 7″ — a midget — but the owner of the St. Louis Browns had snuck him onto the line-up card for the second game of a double-header. “Play ball!” the umpire roared, as the opposing team’s pitcher laughed and conferred with his catcher. (“Pitch him low,” the catcher joked — but the pitcher never could find the strike zone…) Eddie Gaedel walked to first base in his one only — giving him a lifetime perfect on-base percentage of 1.000. And decades later, the owner of that baseball team shared the full story — and dozen of others — with lots of humor and lots of insights drawn from lifetime spent in professional baseball.
It’s a great way to look on a century of great baseball stories — as the 2014 post-season begins!
September 26th, 2014
Now you can link your Twitter account to your Amazon wish list, and request those special gifts with just a hashtag! Whenever there’s an Amazon URL in a tweet, now just include #AmazonWishList in your reply — and Twitter and Amazon will make sure the item gets added to your wish list!
And Amazon’s also added more functionality to their Wish Lists. With its new “Save-A-Photo” feature, you can now take a picture — of anything — and then save it to your Amazon Wish List. In fact, now your Amazon wish list can even include items that you found on other shopping sites. There’s a new easy browser add-on that’s making it possible, which Amazon is calling “the Universal Wish List”.
But here’s my favorite feature: “Don’t Spoil My Surprises!” This lets you keep your Amazon wish list up-to-date for any friends who might shopping from it — but it won’t remove those items that were purchased when you’re looking at the list. That way, “every gift is truly a surprise,” Amazon explains in their press release. And you can even add a “Virtual Note” to your wish list, if you want to make general suggestions about what people should be buying you!
“Last year, one in three Amazon customers worldwide wished,” Amazon explains in a new press release, and the end result was more than 4.3 million “wish list” items being added every day. if Amazon maintained that pace for an entire year, it’d mean the addition of 1,576,800,000 wish list items in just one year!
Of course, Amazon’s gearing up for the big holiday shopping season. Just make sure you don’t add things to your wishlist by accident once you’ve connected it to your Twitter account. I can imagine someone sharing a ridiculous product’s URL on Twitter, like this giant Horse Head Mask. “#AmazonWishList ,” I might tweet back jokingly.
Only to discover that it’s actually been added to my Amazon Wish List!
September 19th, 2014
Amazon’s just introduced an adorable new high-definition tablet — for less than $99! Their new “Fire HD6″ tablet comes with brilliant high-def color (252 pixels per inch) , and it’s available with a 6-inch or 7-inch screen, “in five fun color choices.”
The six-inch edition is only $99, while the 7-inch version costs another $30 ($139). “Fire HD is the most powerful tablet under $100,” bragged Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos. “The new Fire HD features a stunning HD display, quad-core processor, Dolby Digital Audio, front and rear-facing cameras, incredible reliability, and Amazon’s unmatched content ecosystem – all supported by Amazon customer service.”
I’m stunned that it costs just $99 and comes with two cameras — both front- and rear-facing — for two-way video conversations. But then again, I recently bought a 15.6-inch laptop computer for just $250. I joked to a friend that electronic parts have gotten so cheap, now we’re just trying our different configurations. Do you want a larger screen with a physical keyboard, or just a medium-sized tablet device with a touchscreen keyboard. Or, or course, a phone-sized device…
Which seems to be Amazon’s grand master plan. At 6 inches, the FireHD6 is just half an inch larger than the iPhone 6 Plus which Apple just released this week — and it’s $300 cheaper. Amazon is already touting the ability of their FireHD6 to make Skype calls…with video! And when you look past its calling capabilities, “Fire HD delivers a world-class entertainment experience,” according to Amazon’s press release, “with over 33 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and Android apps and games…”
What’s really happening may be the beginning of a smart long-term plan. Amazon’s making it cheap and easy for customers to try out the Amazon “ecosystem”. Once you start buying your music and apps from Amazon, the theory goes, you won’t want to switch to another company’s device. Amazon makes it profit from the thing you’ll purchase with the device — all the apps and the ebooks and digital music and video content. That could explain why the prices are so cheap for the FireHD6, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Amazon was selling the devices “at cost”, or even at a small loss!
Because once you start spending your time with a FireHD6, they’re hoping that you’ll also start spending your money!
September 17th, 2014
I love Amazon’s Kindle ebooks sales — but this month selection seems unusually exciting. There’s famous authors (and famous characters), with new discounts on fiction, non-fiction, and even comic books. Amazon’s discounted over 100 Kindle ebooks to just $3.99 or less — including science fiction, biographies, and thrillers.
Here’s some of the most interesting selections…
John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman ($1.99)
This 800-page biography seems like it’s full of everything you want to know about the music legend — both before and after The Beatles. After three years of research, author Philip Norman apparently interviewed everyone who really knew John Lennon, according to the book’s description at Amazon, including Lennon’s own son Sean “whose moving reminiscence reveals his father as never before.” Norman also obtained rare interviews with Paul McCartney, George Martin, and Yoko Ono, “who speaks with sometimes shocking candor about the inner workings of her marriage to John.” And I have to admit that this book’s description is intriguing, calling it “Honest and unflinching, as John himself would wish…the whole man in all his endless contradictions…”
Easy Go by Michael Crichton ($1.99)
It’s a fun and fascinating novel from one of this century’s greatest literary careers. Just two years after making his debut at the age of 27, Michael Crichton imagined a fantastic story set in Egypt about an archaeologist who discovers ancient tomb filled with vast riches. There’s just one problem, according to Amazon. “He doesn’t just want to dig it up. He wants to steal it.” Soon our hero has teamed up with a smuggler, a thief, and an English lord to attempt history’s greatest heist — and of course, they’re walking right into a novel filled with danger. “Part Heist caper with some Indiana Jones mixed in,” writes one reviewer at Amazon, adding ” It would have made a great action movie….”
The Best American Short Stories 2013 by Elizabeth Strout ($2.99)
This collection is “wildly divergent and entertaining,” according to Booklist, “and each story is cultivated with a keen eye for voice and character…” I’ve always loved these collections of short fiction, and this year’s may be the best one yet (already becoming one of Amazon’s top 500 best-selling Kindle ebooks). “As our vision becomes more global,” explains this year’s guest editor, “our storytelling is stretching in many ways. Stories increasingly change point of view, switch location, and sometimes pack as much material as a short novel might.” That’s Elizabeth Strout, who also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the editor of this series simply describes this collection as “twenty compellingly told, powerfully felt stories about urgent matters with profound consequences….”
Daredevil, Vol. 1 by Mark Waid ($3.99)
Marvel Comic books are hard to find in Amazon’s Kindle Store — but they do have a great selection of graphic novels. And with new interest in The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, let’s not forget one of Marvel’s classic and most inspiring superheroes. Matt Murdock is “the man without fear,” and one comic book fan on Amazon describes this collection of six 2011 issues as “an incredible read, one of the best today!” (“If you like the fun of Spider-Man, but get a little tired of the self-deprecating humor or you love Batman, but don’t want to be bogged down by loads of continuity or maybe you just want to find something that’s both fun and thrilling all in the same place, do yourself a favor and pick this up!”)
And if you’re looking for more Marvel graphic novels, Amazon’s also discounted Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People to just $3.99!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s ebook discounts, point your browser to
September 13th, 2014
The war is on — which smartphone will win? Or is Apple really trying to fight Amazon’s Kindle Fire? It’s fun to watch two giant tech companies trying to out-do each other by creating even more exciting new gadgets. But at some point you have to ask: which fight are we really watching? Did Apple just release a new phone, or a new tablet?!
But my response would be that it doesn’t matter. I always think of the long-term war between Apple and Microsoft. Actually, I remember the way it was acted out in the movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley”. It ends with Steve Jobs confronting Bill Gates over Microsoft’s plans to take over the market for personal computers. Microsoft succeeded, but I like to think that Steve Jobs personally calculated the strategy that would one day help Apple reclaim the lead.
The storyline looks like this. Steve Jobs knows that computers will get smaller and smaller, and eventually “computing” will be mostly practiced on tiny devices that we’d hold in our hands. So back in 2001, Apple releases their first iPod, and quickly carves out a niche in “fresh territory”. The iPod gets better and better, and within 6 years, Apple adds the ability to make phone calls to their handheld devices — and also the ability to run apps. And what was the iPad, really, but a big iPhone, for running apps on a giant screen?
There’s debate now about whether you can really replace a personal computer with a handheld device, but it’s undeniable that people love owning a tablet. Amazon, of course, has been selling Kindles for the last 7 years, and they introduced their own line of multimedia tablets in 2011. But the Kindle Fire may just have been a defensive move by Amazon — to make sure Apple didn’t lure away everyone who wanted to read ebooks on a handheld device.
And then Amazon launched an offensive move — releasing a smartphone of their own. The Fire Phone was even discounted massively this week, from $199 apiece to just 99 cents (with a two-year service contract). But I’m still wondering if we’re missing the real battle that Amazon is fighting here. The Fire Phone comes with a “Firefly” feature which makes it easy to instantly purchase items (using your Amazon account to automatically handle all the billing). Maybe Amazon isn’t worried about losing customer’s who’d buy ebooks, digital readers, or even handheld tablets.
Maybe Amazon’s worried about losing ground in the war for all commerce — the ability to handle every payment that gets made on a mobile device.
September 9th, 2014
One of the founders of the dating site “OK Cupid” just released a new book — and it reveals some stunning insights about how people live today. (And Amazon’s discounting the Kindle edition to just $6.99.) After 10 years of running OKCupid, Christian Rudder has crunched the data to uncover some surprisingly clear patterns about what people really want. The title of his book? Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)
“Tonight, some thirty thousand couples will have their first date because of OkCupid,” Rudder writes in the book’s introduction. “Roughly three thousand of them will end up together long-term. Two hundred of those will get married, and many of them, of course, will have kids.” It seems like just one out of every 150 dates will end in marriage, I thought at first. But then I realized: that’s happening every night — so 73,000 marriages each year are beginning with OKCupid dates!
“There are children alive and pouting today,” jokes the site’s founder, “grouchy little humans refusing to put their shoes on right now, who would never have existed but for the whims of our HTML.” And Rudder used to maintain a blog on their dating site that was called “OKTrends” — interesting observations about what patterns they were observing — according to Wikipedia. Rudder only stopped writing the blog in order to collect the same kind of information into this book. And according to one reviewer at Amazon, “This book may be to Data Science…what Freakonomics was to Economics…”
So what did he learn? Rudder revealed one fascinating experiment in July. OKCupid tried blatantly lying about the compatability of online dates, telling customers they’d discovered someone who matched 90% of their dating criteria…when they’d actually only matched 30%. (And to test the opposite, OKCupid told some customers that they’d also found people matching a mere 30% of their criteria — when, secretly, those people were actually a 90% match!) The results? Users sent more messages –at least “a conversation” of four — when they believed there was compatibility. Their own interactions weren’t always enough to convince them to keep those conversations going….and they put more faith in the numbers from the web site!
And surprisingly, people were much more likely to take a chance on e-mailing a person when there were no pictures available to judge how attractive they were….
Christian Rudder graduated from Harvard with a degree in math, according to The New York Times, calling Rudder the “Unblushing Analyst of Attraction” for OKCupid. And there is a stunningly geeky frankness in the infographics he’s released in advance of the book. For example, Rudder reports that the most sexually-aggressive states in America are Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, Ohio and New Hampshire are the states least interested in sex and most interested in finding love…
Of course, there’s also a startling confession in Rudder’s book. “I’ve never been on an online date in my life and neither have any of the other founders…” So he’s not trying to push people to their web site, “and if it’s not for you, believe me, I get that.
“Tech evangelism is one of my least favorite things!”
September 5th, 2014
“Today Only,” read the special announcement on Amazon. Friday they’d slashed the prices on the Kindle Fire HD to just $129!
But a more interesting question is why is Amazon offering massive discounts on their high-definition tablet?
First, it’s a refurbished version, but that doesn’t explain everything. And the second clue is that Amazon seems to running out of their basic $69 Kindle. “Expected to ship in 1 to 2 weeks,” reads the text Amazon quietly slipped onto their web page. Why the sudden dramatic shifting in Amazon’s inventory of Kindles?
Of course, one theory is that Amazon’s about to announce a new Kindle. They usually schedule these announcements in September, to build up anticipation for the devices they’ll be releasing right before the big shopping season after Thanksgiving. So Amazon, the theory goes, is making room for all these new Kindles. Which they’re going to have to store someplace while they wait for new customers to order them…
What will Amazon announce? They’ll want to upgrade their tablets to keep up with their new competition. Maybe Amazon will add the Firefly button, and the other cool new features that they introduced with their Fire Phone. Besides being fun to play with, those features also made it easier to buy more things from Amazon.
So my guess is Amazon will include it on as many devices as possible!