The best Kindle image ever?

June 30th, 2010

I just have to say it…

Kindle for PC logo

I love the logo that Amazon came up with for the Kindle for PC.

I just found out that my blog is currently the 77th best-selling technology blog in Amazon’s Kindle store. But I’m basically just someone who’s young at heart, loves reading, and wants to share my excitement about the Kindle. Maybe that’s why I identify so much with the boy in the silhouette. If I could, I’d steal that picture and use it as the logo for this blog!

Sometimes the ebooks I read only have one problem. I get so excited about them that I want to stop reading immediately so I can write a blog post about them…

The Kindle in Iraq

June 29th, 2010

Kindle military camouflage cover

“I took my Kindle with me to Iraq…”

So I’ve finally started reading Amazon’s discussion forums for the Kindle, and just discovered a fascinating post titled “Kindle and the Navy,” where one female soldier from Maryland reports, “I loved having my Kindle with me on deployment.”

“I used to carry around bags of books,” she remembers, adding that in fact, “my last deployment on the ship I ended up having close to $800 worth of books sent to me — only about half of which I kept because I ran out of room!” The thread was started when a another soldier’s mother and sister asked whether the Kindle would make a good gift, and they received an enthusiastic response. “If he is a vicarious reader, I would say go for it!”

“I would have LOVED a kindle back in the day when I was deployed…” added another soldier. “This is a GREAT idea for deployed people!!”

Another gift idea was a sturdy carrying case to protect the Kindle, and someone even found a a carrying case with a Navy camouflage pattern (though other posters recommended the even sturdier waterproof cases from M-Edge). There’s even a campaign called Operation ebook Drop, in which some authors give service members free copies of their ebooks!

I’d never thought about whether the Kindle would be used in the military, but it seems like a natural fit. (My friend in the Navy once complained that some days fell into the category of “Hurry up and wait.”) And it does seem like it’d make a nice gift for a soldier. At least while you were stationed far from home…you could always have something to read!

A Very Funny Typo?

June 28th, 2010

I love the poem at the beginning of “The Jungle Book.” But there appeared to be a dreadful (and funny) typo in the best-selling free Kindle edition. See if you can find it…


NIGHT-SONG OF THE JUNGLE

Now Rann the Kite brings home the night
That Mang the Bat sets free —
The herds are shut in byre and hut
For loosed till dawn are we.

This is the hour of pride and power,
Talon and tush and claw.
Oh, hear the call! — Good hunting all
That keep the Jungle Law!

See what looks like an out-of-place word? If not, let me help you out. Here’s how the site Urban Dictionary defines the word “tush”.

1. Rear-end, butt, behind
She had a nice tush.

2. what ZZ Top looks for downtown

I didn’t think the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s jungle were hunting with their tushes…

It seems obvious from the context that the word is “tusk.” (And that’s the word that appears in some online editions of the book.)

This is the hour of pride and power,
Talon and tusk and claw…

But what’s even more interesting is the “tush” version now appears 2,500 times in a Google search – while the “tusk” version appears just 266 times. (That is, almost 90% of the online editions are using the word “tush”.) Even the Encyclopedia Britannica site republished Kipling’s poem with the word “tush”, along with several universities. In fact, according to Google thousands of people are now fondly quoting that version of the poem, including Ask.com, San Diego State University, The Wild India Guide, and a site called The Poetry Lovers Page. My favorite was a medical facility that performs “world-class research in Alzheimer’s disease”. A misguided human resources document quoted the “tush” version of the poem – then added it “could very well be a guide in defining and understanding organizations.” (Tush-friendly organizations are described by the HR document as places that include “unwritten codes and culture,” and adhering to them “determines one’s chances of survival…”)

What’s going on? My friend Andy Baio pointed me to the Oxford English Dictionary, explaining that tush “is another name for the elephant’s early tusk.” And then I felt like kind of a jackass (no pun intended), because as Amazon points out, the free etext was created by “a community of volunteers”, and here I was trying to second-guess their work.

But I’d already noticed some valid complaints about some free Kindle editions of Kipling. And I was a little miffed when I downloaded a free collection of Kipling poetry, and discovered that every single poem appeared without any linebreaks (including classic Kipling poems like “Gunga Din” and “Mandolay”).

But I’d argue that what’s really going on is a quiet triumph for the Kindle – and for the community of volunteers preparing the free texts. Their free version of The Jungle Book is now one of the top 100 best-selling free books in the Kindle store. That’s how I found it, which added me to the pool of people watching for typos.

We can then notify the community of volunteers to make fixes, in a kind of “spontaneous collaboration” to preserve stories that were written more than 100 years ago. It ultimately shows that they’ve already succeeded tremendously in popularizing classic literature to a new world of digital readers — and that those readers, in turn, can help improve the quality of future digital editions.

Krazy Kat and Ignatz mouse and brick

I’d blogged the other day about the shortest Kindle sample ever. But I’d forgotten about a funny experience I’d had when I first bought my Kindle.

I hadn’t seen any illustrations on my Kindle yet – except for the screensaver images that kept surprising me every time I put down my Kindle for too long. So I’d searched for a collection of Kindle comic strips, and eventually found one of the all-time classics! Krazy Kat is a strange and surreal slapstick comic strip that first appeared in 1913 – and I’ve always loved it. It’s a simple, sweet world where the cat loves the mouse, and ordering a sample seemed like the perfect way to test out the Kindle’s graphics capabilities.

So imagine my surprise when I’d downloaded the sample to my Kindle, and discovered…nothing. Followed by this sentence.


Enjoyed the sample? Buy Now or See details for this book in the Kindle Store.

Now that’s surrealism – a zen-like sample filled with emptiness and arbitrariness. (I felt like I’d just been clobbered with a brick!) Or was it just another surreal landscape drawn by George Herriman in which everything had disappeared?

I e-mailed Amazon’s customer service (saying that I’d really just wanted to know whether my Kindle would display images of all the comic strips in the book), and in the end it still became a very positive experience. They’d promised that yes, I’d see the actual comic strips – confirming my faith in Amazon’s customer service – and reminding me that if I wasn’t satisfied, “you can return any item purchased from the Kindle Store within 7 days of purchase.”

So I finally purchased An Anthology of Krazy Kat Komics. And though it’s short, and I have to enlarge the images just to read them, I’ll always have a special affection for this ebook, because it included the first illustrations that I ever saw on my Kindle.

And also because they’d sent me the strangest Kindle sample ever.

Okay, this wins the award for what may be the single shortest “Sample” I’ve ever received on the Kindle.

Earlier this month I’d blogged about how you can finally download the original Winnie-the-Pooh onto your Kindle – including its classic black-and-white illustrations by Ernest Shepard. (And yes, those would make some excellent screensaver images!) It’s fun to see them on the Kindle, and even as an adult, it’s still a very fun read. But if you download the book’s sample, they send you exactly one sentence from the book’s first chapter.


“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.”

And that’s it!

Although to be fair, there’s also several illustrations, plus several pages of the humorous introduction to the book that was written by A. A. Milne.


I had written as far as this when Piglet looked up and said in his squeaky voice, “What about Me?”

“My dear Piglet,” I said, “the whole book is about you…”

“So it is about Pooh,” he squeaked. You see what it is…

But imagine clicking through the sample, and discovering that most of it is devoted to things like the the title page, the table of contents, the publisher’s information, and even a disclaimer that Winnie-the-Pooh “is a work of fiction.”


“Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.”

Who knew that so many lawyers lived at the House at Pooh Corner?

Yes, it is possible to play games on your Kindle. (I even wrote a game for the Kindle, which you can try here!) Click here for my updated list of 100 games you can play on your Kindle — including eight free ones. There’s also the 10 best games for your Kindle and all my other posts about playing games on the Kindle.

But when I first got my original Kindle 1, it wasn’t nearly this easy to play games. Here’s my original post – written about my Kindle 1 – so you can see how much better things have gotten!

*                        *                        *

It turns out you can play Sudoku on your Kindle – and some other games too!

I was feeling a little jealous because Barnes and Noble had upgraded the Nook so it offered users the ability to play Sudoku. And then I discovered that it’s also possible to play Sudoku on your Kindle! That link leads to several interactive Sudoku puzzle books that you can download, and they’re played using the Kindle’s wireless web connection. Use your menu to select the row where you’ll enter a number, and then choose the appropriate square within that row.

I ordered a sample from several of these Sudoku books, and ended up with a nice collection of free Sudoku puzzles for my Kindle. Having said that, it was still a horribly clunky way to play Sudoku. (It takes almost 10 seconds to enter every number.) And on my original edition Kindle, the squares were simply labeled “Input Field”. I had to count each separate “Input Field” until I’d figured out which square I was looking for!

It’s also possible to play Tic Tac Toe on your Kindle — if you order the appropriate “book” from the Kindle Store. Tic Tac Toe (Kindle Edition) uses the same format, letting you select the row for your move with the menu — and then selecting the appropriate square. It was also a little clunky. On my original Kindle, the menu would still say “Zoom Image” if a square already had an X or O in it — while the empty squares were labeled “Follow Link” in the menu. Yes, it’s possible to play a game of Tic Tac Toe using this book. But what’s hardest about winning the game is simply navigating the menus!

And finally, it’s also possible to play Minesweeper on the Kindle. This is a free game that I’d just assumed was a hidden “Easter Egg” — a secret feature that was pre-installed, just to make users feel special when they discovered it. Hold down the Alt key and the shift key directly above it while also typing M at the same time, and a grey 8 by 10 grid appears on the screen. You use the keys on the keyboard to navigate to the square for your next guess, and the space key reveals whether that square contains a number or an exploding mine! Like the other games, it’s a little clunky.

And to tell you the truth, I’d rather use my Kindle for reading!

UPDATE: Ironically, I just discovered this blog post has become one of Google’s top matches for the phrase: “Can I play Sudoku on a Kindle!” (And “Is it possible to play games on the Kindle?”) But it turns out there’s an even more famous game that you can play on the Kindle: Jumble puzzles!

I’m sure you’ve seen these “scrambled word” puzzles in your daily newspaper. (Circles in the squares mark all the letters which appear in the final set of scrambled words — which is usually the punchline to a question asked in the cartoon.) I’ve always loved doing Jumble puzzles (which I’ve also seen called “the Junior Jumble”).

And now you can play them on your Kindle!


So I’d searched the Kindle store for a free version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – and I couldn’t find one. Amazon showed me six pages of search results, all offering different versions of Jules Verne’s classic adventure story – with each one costing at least 95 cents. But since the book was published in 1869, why couldn’t I find a free version?

And then I figured it out. I’d typed in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” — using a comma in the number 20,000. Strangely, if you type Verne’s title without the comma, you pull up an entirely different set of results. (There’s 36 versions if you spell the title with the comma, but you’ll get what appear to be 35 more versions if you spell the title without the comma.) And yes, I finally located the free version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

It’s currently #66 on Amazon’s list of the the top 100 free eBooks, so obviously there are lots of people who are finding it. But in my case, I’d had to drag myself out of my beloved armchair, and use a desktop PC to access the Kindle store, so I could sort those results by price.

But then it felt like I’d finally located Captain Nemo’s elusive submarine…

Jonah Hex on the Kindle?!

June 19th, 2010

Jonah Hex comic vs movie

So I was the first guy in line to see “Jonah Hex” this afternoon. (Mainly because nobody was in line to see “Jonah Hex” this afternoon, except a trio of high school girls…) But I’d already read a bunch of the violent western comic books — and it got me to wondering if I could find any Jonah Hex content on my Kindle.

Turns out the answer was both yes and no. It was “No” in that searching the Kindle store returned the discouraging message that “Your search ‘jonah hex’ did not match any products…” But it was “Yes” in that as I curled up in my armchair and began wirelessly browsing the web, I eventually stumbled across a four-page preview of the newest Jonah Hex graphic novel.

And even though it was just released 10 days ago, there I was reading it on my Kindle, in all its hyper-violent western glory.


So it IS you! Folks say yore the fastest gun…

BLAMMM!

I’ve often thought about the lack of good illustrated material on the Kindle. (If you Google the Kindle store for Spider-Man, you’ll find the book adaptation of Spider-Man 3, but not, say, a comic book adaptation!) And granted, I was looking at color illustrations on a black-and-white display, and it was only four pages. (And yes, on the tiny screen of my Kindle 1, I couldn’t read the small text in that first balloon of narration.) But I still felt I’d achieved some kind of milestone.

I’d sat down to search on the Kindle for a specific comic book character. And eventually, I’d found it!

My friend just perfectly summarized what’s so exciting about a digital reader. I’d written to him about what I like – that “It’s just so cool that you can think of a book, and then have it beamed down to your lap within seconds!” And he wrote back…


“Little bit scary in fact. Too easy!

In the bookstore I tend to wander around and think about if I *really* need a book. On the Nook, it is a few clicks away!”

Yes, he bought a Nook instead of a Kindle. But ultimately we both discovered another advantage that the Kindle has over the Nook – and as his next e-mail explained, it’s exactly the opposite problem!

Something I don’t like about the Nook: In order to delete some Barnes and Noble content, you have to do it on their website!

When the Nook synchronizes with the website, it will archive the materials. Seems complicated, mostly because it is a little complicated. You can delete files via the USB connection…but it would be easier to have a “get rid of this” or “archive” button on the user interface.

How’s that for ironic? Both of these digital readers can download books instantly. The Kindle’s advantage is that it can make them go away instantly!

(Just open the menu when you’re reading any item, and select “Delete This Item”. Or go to the Home Page and select “Content Manager” to check off ebooks to be deleted as a group…)

Yesterday I mentioned Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and how that free edition had become #61 on Kindle’s list of best-selling (free) ebooks. So here’s another tip about free ebooks for Rudyard Kipling fans.

There’s only three stories about Mowgli the jungle boy in The Jungle Book. The other four stories are about other animals. (When I read this book at the age of 13, I was surprised to see the fourth story was “The White Seal” — which is obviously not about a jungle animal at all!) But Kipling included five more stories about Mowgli in an often-overlooked sequel called The Second Jungle Book..

And yet surprisingly, on Amazon’s list of best-selling free ebooks, Kipling’s sequel is only ranked #1,325.

Rudyard Kipling

Here’s another author who would make a great Kindle screensaver: Rudyard Kipling.

But watch out if you try to read a Kipling work on your Kindle…

My girlfriend’s been contemplating a trip to India, so I tried downloading some of Kipling’s classic India stories to my Kindle. But soon I discovered comments on Amazon warning me that for some of the free editions, the formatting was absolutely terrible.


No italics. Straight quotes. Dashes are hyphens. No paragraph re-wrapping at all – the original book’s line endings (or perhaps every 80 characters) are just hard-coded,

Loads of typos/ocr/spellcheck errors – e.g. “Thou Knobbiest” for “Thou Knowest”.

Avoid. It’s terrible.

That’s for Kipling’s story Kim, about the young orphan of a British soldier stationed in India. And another reviewer seemed to be mimicking the bad formatting you’d experience if you tried to read the ebook, by adding lots of unnecessary extra line breaks!


This one’s not properly formatted
for the Kindle
Don’t bother!
It will drive you nuts

What’s sad is that sometimes the editorial problems are more serious. One Amazon reviewer noticed that a very crucial part of the text was left out of one ebook version of “Just So Stories” — the poems!


Being a free Kindle edition, I was expecting that the drawings and their attached descriptions would be missing. What I was not expecting was for the little poems often found in the stories to also be missing. Things like the Sloka the Parsee sings after the Rhinoceros eats his cake, that are usually block-quoted and italicized in published versions, are not included. The stories can certainly be followed without them, but as the text that IS there specifically says a little poem or song is going to be related to the reader, the gaps are quite obvious.

I’m sure this will all get sorted out over time, as more editions become available for great works of classic literature. In fact, the free edition of Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” is already in the top 100 of Amazon’s best-selling free ebooks.

But readers still have some complaints…

As to formatting of this kindle edition: there are blocks of Kipling’s poetry in between the stories, some of which was difficult to read as the formatting had not carried over well to this Kindle edition. Not a critical issue, but Kipling’s poetry is excellent and the formatting errors were annoying.

Over 20,000 people read my blog post from Wednesday. But I think my problems started in 1902…

That was when Beatrix Potter first published The Tale of Peter Rabbit (which eventually I read when I was a kid). So when the Kindle came along, I was excited there were finally digital illustrated editions of Potter’s books, including slick black-and-white versions of her fairy tales’ watercolors.

Last week I’d blogged about it, adding as an afterthought that I thought Beatrix Potter would’ve liked the Kindle. (In 1906, she was already experimenting with a new non-book format for her books, though with the absence of digital technology, her idea was a long, folded piece of paper that could be carried in a wallet.) Sunday the big wave of traffic came when my post got linked by the great geek web site, Slashdot – though not everyone agreed with my premise.

There were nearly 100 lively comments on their site about everything from color screens, copyrights, and the iPad to the reading habits of infants. But in the middle of the discussion, someone argued that ebooks themselves were just a trendy fad. They panned the “buzz” around the Kindle vs. “a content delivery system which has been proven over the course of centuries.”

Their harshest line? “I may be a luddite but at least my books will still function after the collapse of civilization.”

And then someone posted this response, titled: “Sorry you are a luddite.”

The new digital world is pervasive and more permanent than you could ever imagine. In a world of 6 plus billion people, the only way for everyone to have access to books, literature, everything written down by the humans for the past 10,000 years is through digital form. This is the future. A single paperback book costs on average, $20 today. A near future netbook/ereader will cost around $100 and will have access to millions of works via a cheap connection to the internet. You can’t compete with that with your lump of soggy paper.

And sorry to say, the first thing the mobs do when civilization ends is burn the libraries to the ground, along with all the book hoarders. For any printed book, there may be thousands, or even tens of thousands of copies, but for a digital book, there can be an infinite number of perfect copies.

Beatrix Potter was a populist who wanted to make her books accessible to all segments of society. She would surely see the advent of digitalization as a GOOD THING.

And then, just to leave things on a lighter note, he ended his post with a joke.

“You may now go back to admiring and dusting your book collection.”

I’ve found the answer!

Last week someone went into Google and typed:

who are the authors on the kindle screen

And Google sent them to me. (Like I know everything about the Kindle?) Fortunately, with a little research, I found a great discussion on a web site called “Mobile Read.” And apparently someone there has compiled a definitive list!

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Edgar Allen Poe
Mark Twain
John Steinbeck
the one with the 17th century astronomer & his wife w/ giant sextant
the Hercules constellation
the Audubon finches-in-a-tree
Kindle definition with falling letters
Agatha Christie
Man at table with lion in foreground
Charlotte Bronte
James Joyce
Virginia Woolf
Alexandre Dumas
Jules Verne
Kindle feedback request w/ some sort of coding machine
Durer
Oscar Wilde
Woman with book
John Milton
Lewis Carroll
Medieval illumination page
“Albertus” page
Emily Dickinson
Jane Austen
Cathedral floorplan

Er, but I’ve got to be honest – I can’t bring myself to actually read through the list. I really love being surprised! I’ve written about screensaver serendipity. (I blogged that when that ghostly picture of Oscar Wilde came up, “I just assumed that my Kindle was haunted…”) This is also why I don’t want change or replace my Kindle screensaver images.

So I was more interested in a different part of the discussion on that forum. Someone suggested that when it’s at rest, your Kindle’s screensaver should display the cover of the book that you’re reading. But then a poster named SirBruce had the ultimate response.

I thought of that idea as well, but then I reconsidered: Do I really want folks seeing the cover of Naughty Nurses 3: Nude at Night?

UPDATE: Some people have been arriving to this page after searching Google for the phrase “kindle definition with falling letters.” I’m not sure exactly what they’re looking for, but there’s at least one Kindle screensaver that provides a definition…of the word “kindle”.


kindle
\ kǐn´ dl \

v : light or sent on fire; arouse or inspire (an emotion or feeling)

By reading to me at bedtime when I was a child, my parents kindled my life-long love for reading.


But of course, there’s another “definition” screensaver where Amazon reminds you that their Kindle “is a whole new class of device.

“Thank you for being an early adopter.”

UPDATE 2: Five hours later, I’d figured it out. They’d meant the Kindle definition that appears on the box in which the Kindle was shipped! For some reason, that definition is a little different.

kindle (kǐn´ dəl)
 v.t. 1. set on fire. 2. inspire, stir up.
-v.i. 1. catch fire. 2. become animated.

Image courtesy of Jess Park

Now, this is cool!

I’ve been blogging for a while about people who want to change or replace their Kindle screensavers. It turns out a blogger named Jess Park has turned this into a real artform.

In the spring of 2008, Disney unveiled the “Nouveau Collection,” elegant designs inspired by classic art nouveau paintings… [W]ith help from bloss_japanime, who posted high-res pictures of the journal covers, I’ve put together this delightful collection for use with your Kindle!

There’s The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin.

And of course – Snow White!

It turns out I’m not the only one excited about Beatrix Potter’s stories on the Kindle. Four different children’s stories by Beatrix Potter have turned up in the top 20 of Amazon’s list of best-selling (free) children’s books!

And I’m also not the only one who noticed that the free editions didn’t include Potter’s original illustrations…


“Sure, it’s free, but what’s the point, if the images are missing in a children’s book…”

“Instead of including the illustrations (which the Kindle can handle beautifully), there’s text, and then it’ll say [illustration] [illustration]. Really awful. No wonder it’s free….

So here’s my helpful tip for the day. You can purchase fully illustrated Kindle versions of Beatrix Potter’s fairy tales in a collection that costs just $1.00. If you ask for the sample, they’ll even send you a free, illustrated version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Just remember to stay out of Mr. McGregor’s garden…