Picture of the new smaller, black $139 Amazon Wi-Fi Kindle

If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Amazon lowered the price for the Kindle Wednesday — for a newer model with only Wi-Fi access to the Kindle store (and with only Wi-Fi surfing when using the Kindle’s web browser). All the other Kindle models still have their built-in access to the online world, so they’re always ready to surf the web and shop for books — anywhere and any time. But this new Kindle has other advantages — like running for up to one month on a single battery charge. And it weighs just 8.5 ounces — “less than a paperback,” Amazon argues — making it 17% lighter than even the smallest of the original Kindles.

There’s also twice as much storage space — holding up to 3,500 books — and Amazon promises the new screens can display pages 20% faster, and offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader.” But best of all, this settles any question about whether Amazon might give up on selling the Kindle, and focus solely on selling ebooks. “The hardware business for us has been so successful that we’re going to continue,” Amazon’s CEO told the New York Times.

Wednesday they’d contacted Jeff Bezos at Amazon headquarters, and heard his strong commitment to continuing Kindle sales. “I predict there will be a 10th-generation and a 20th-generation Kindle,” Bezos announced. “We’re well-situated to be experts in purpose-built reading devices.” And while touting the lower price, he also found a way to highlight the fact that — unlike the iPad — the Kindle is perfect for reading outdoors. “At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses…”

I think Amazon will also attract people who are curious about the Kindle, but don’t want to risk a lot of money. (In a few months, the prices should drop even lower if you’re purchasing a wi-fi Kindle that’s used or refurbished.) And of course, it will make a perfect birthday gift. (I wonder if you can purchase it pre-loaded with gift books!) In fact, Amazon is already describing the Kindle as “the most-wished-for, most-gifted” item in their vast online store, and they’ve revealed that the Kindle “has the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon.”

But hearing the news today, I’d remembered a blog post I read in June. “Don’t worry about touchscreens or color or even always available internet to download new books,” argued marketing guru Seth Godin. “Make a $49 Kindle. Not so hard if you use available wi-fi and simplify the device…” Amazon may not have lowered their prices to $49, but they definitely swapped in the cheaper Wi-fi connectivity, and the lower prices should attract even more readers to the Kindle.

In fact, there’s fierce competition now in the market for digital readers, and the Kindle’s survival might depend on how cheap they can get! “You either become the best and only platform for consuming books worth buying or you fail,” argues Godin’s blog post. “And the only way to create that footprint in the face of an iPad is to make it so cheap to buy and use it’s irresistible. I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.”

But as every age group starts to embrace the arrival of electronic readers, Amazon is still fighting hard to be perceived as the best deal in town.

Interested? If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Newsweek just published what’s almost a rebuttal to my last article. My headline: “Will the iPad Kill the Kindle?” Newsweek’s headline: “Why the iPad Hasn’t Killed the Kindle…”

It’s a good article, but what I really liked is the way that it answered an even bigger question. A few analysts had raised a darker possibility:that Amazon will kill the Kindle. What if Amazon decides it just doesn’t want to compete with the iPad, and then shifts all of its resources into marketing Kindle ebooks (to all the non-Kindle devices, like the iPad, the Blackberry, and the Droid)? But apparently Newsweek’s reporter broached that topic with Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos when the Kindle first began confronting the possible threat from the iPad last fall.

“I suggested to Bezos that maybe Amazon didn’t care about selling Kindle machines, that maybe the device wasn’t important. He said that wasn’t the case, but that ‘our goal with the Kindle device is separate from the Kindle bookstore.’

“Bezos insisted there is a market for ‘a purpose-built reading device,’ as he calls it. ‘It’s not a Swiss Army knife. It’s not going to do a bunch of different things. We believe reading deserves a dedicated device.'”

Of course, you can read what you want into that quote. (After all, separating the Kindle from the ebook would be the first step towards eventually abandoning the Kindle altogether.) But here’s how I understand what Amazon’s CEO is saying.

1. Amazon doesn’t need to sell Kindles in order to sell ebooks.

2. Amazon would still like to sell both Kindles and ebooks…

I put out a call to a journalist’s network last week, asking Kindle users to answer one simple question: what’s your own favorite story about using the Kindle? The answers poured in from across America, but each person seemed to have a very positive experience that was also very unique.

Patrick Kerley, an account supervisor for a PR firm in Washington, D.C., remembered a great Kindle story about his mother. “She and my father were traveling between North Carolina and southern Florida when they blew a tire. The Kindle’s web browser helped them locate a replacement!”

And the free wireless internet access played an even bigger role for Sophia Chiang, a San Francisco entrepreneur on an extended trip through China. She reports the Kindle was a great way to buy “uncensored English magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.” Amazon’s Whispernet network actually allowed her to circumvent the Chinese government’s ongoing news censorship.

Her Kindle also let Sophia beam down travel guidebooks that were written in English. “We went on a last minute trip to a more remote part of China and we got our Lonely Planet guide immediately on the Kindle.” Without the Kindle, she reports on her blog, the only alternative would’ve been scrambling around trying to find a Chinese bookstore, and then hoping that they’d have a travel guidebook, in stock, that was written in English!

Because it was a long trip, Sophia was also glad that her Kindle could last for over a week without a recharge. But her last reason was one of the most exciting. Even though I’ve written a lot about children’s books on the Kindle, Sophia is the first person I know who’s actually using the Kindle to buy ebooks for her children. (“Our kids loved the Kindle and loved being able to buy Magic Tree House, ABC Mysteries series even in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.”)

I’ll have more of the responses from other Kindle users over the next week, but I just want to say that my favorite response probably came from Marc Pittman, who runs a fundraising-education business in Maine. He describes himself as a “proud owner” of an original Kindle 1, and says “I think my happiest moment so far happened at the playground last week. I was using my iPad (*gasp*) when a 5 year old kid ran past, stopped, and shouted ‘Cool Kindle!’

“Kids know where the real innovation is!”

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

There was some controversy when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a new book-reading Kindle application for the iPad. “Is Amazon Killing the Kindle?” asked The Motley Fool, noting that Amazon offered extra video and audio features in their Kindle applications for both the iPad and iPhone.

It’s possible to embed multimedia clips directly into the ebooks, so they can then be played back in the Kindle applications for these devices – though not, ironically, on a Kindle. The Motley Fool noted that Amazon was making an effort to support Kindle applications not only on Apple’s mobile devices, but also on Google’s Android platform and Droid phones. (And there’s also a Kindle app available for the Blackberry.) “But will that support come at the expense of the Kindle itself?” Noting that Amazon is now “putting out a better product for the non-Kindle owning crowd,” they wondered if Amazon was refocusing its energy on the sale of ebooks — rather than on their own ebook-reading device!

For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, he was first asked point-blank about the iPad, and, basically, whether Amazon felt doomed by Apple’s entry into the marketplace for tablet-sized reading devices. Was the threat of competition what pushed Amazon into dramatically lowering the Kindle’s price last month?

“No. The iPad… It’s really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers.”

But the interview also offers an interesting statistic — last year, 80% of all ebook sales came through Amazon’s store. (Bezos jokes that “It’s hard even for us to remember internally that we only launched Kindle a little over 30 months ago.”) So it still stands to reason that Amazon is just as interested in protecting their book-selling business as they are in their secondary business of selling Kindles. That’s the secret subtext when Bezos answers a question about whether Amazon can hang onto its share of the ebook market.

“We want people to be able to read their books anywhere they want to read them. That’s the PC, that’s the Macintosh. It’s the iPad, it’s the iPhone. It’s the Kindle. So you have this whole multitude of devices and whatever’s most convenient for you at the moment.

“We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”

It’s a fascinating interview, because you get the idea that Bezos really, really loves books. At the same time, he also admits that “I think the definition of a book is changing.” He defines that change specifically in areas where the Kindle is strong, saying that the book is now “getting more convenient. Now you can get a book in less than 60 seconds.” But in the end, he still never answers the big question of whether Amazon sees its future in the sale of Kindles — or in the sale of ebooks, to all devices.

Fortunately, there’s one more piece of data. You may have seen Amazon’s new television ad, where they emphasize that you can read your Kindle at the beach, in direct sunlight. (Which would obviously be nearly impossible with the back-lit screen of an iPad.) If Amazon were surrendering to the iPad, then they wouldn’t be wasting their money on an expensive TV ad campaign. To me, this strongly suggests that Amazon is still serious about staying in the market for tablet-shaped devices.

But ironically, back in January — before the iPad had even been released — I’d already written an article asking Could Apple’s iPad Kill the Kindle? Maybe it’s ultimately just a perpetually trendy question — and an indicator that Kindle users feel overly protective of their beloved device!

Kindle Cookbook Recipes for Entertaining - Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker

What happens when you try to use the Kindle to read a cookbook?

I asked my girlfriend to test it out, and she shared her surprising results…

                        *                        *                        *

I remember when my boyfriend first started letting me use his Kindle (thus showing that a new level of trust had been reached in our relationship). I’d browsed through Amazon’s free ebook section, and discovered Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining, by Beth Hensberger and Julie Kaufmann.

I was intrigued, since I’d recently purchased a slow cooker. Interestingly, I’d downloaded a free copy, which lists the author as Julie Kaufmann, but when I looked it up to make sure it’s still free, I found it’s now selling for $9.99 and lists Beth Hensberger along with Julie Kaufmann.

In reading the cookbook, I also discovered the exciting world of font sizes. My boyfriend likes large font sizes, but they make reading recipies difficult. So I was delighted when I figured out that I could shrink the font (duh!), and thus get a lot more text on each page!

I like reading cookbooks, and have been enjoying this book. It has a wide range of interesting recipies and entertaining menu selections, including some which are elegant enough for entertaining. Unlike other slow cooker books I read, this book includes appetizers, drinks and desserts as well as the more traditional soups, stews and fondues. Some of my favorites include Steamed Chocolate Pudding, Honey BBQ Pork Ribs, Chicken Mole Enchelada Casserole, and Curry Mixed Nuts.

Unfortunately, I came across several problems when I started cooking my first meal. For one thing, it’s extremely annoying to try to arrange the recipe so it starts at the top of the page. This means that every recipe I’ve worked with is split across two pages, with part of the ingredients and instructions on one page and part on the next. This is very inconvenient when cooking. It means having to stop every so often and page back and forth to keep on track.

Another issue I found was when the book references itself. For example, it called for a barbecue sauce whose recipe was “on page 101.” Well, the Kindle doesn’t have a page 101. I did figure out I could do a search on that phrase, but other recipies also called for the same barbecue sauce, so it took some scrolling around to get to where I wanted to go. Also, I found looking through the table of contents rather tedious. Chicken recipes were on the 9th page of the table of contents section; pork recipes on the 11th. The table of contents ran through 14 pages, and every time I picked up the Kindle I had to start over on its first page. Boring.

So, I made the Honey Pork BBQ Ribs, which were delicious (and boyfriend-approved!). I wouldn’t have tried this book without the Kindle, so I’m glad I downloaded it. But I was too frustrated by the Kindle’s limited screen space to use it again. I like the book enough to order the paperback copy on Amazon because I want to try other recipes out. OMG! The Kindle isn’t perfect. Bummer.

                        *                        *                        *

But in the Kindle’s defense…

The honey pork barbecue ribs were delicious!

Amazingly, yesterday there was a long discussion about the Kindle and the future of the book on the daytime television talk show, The View.

Whoopi Goldberg is a big fan of the Kindle, and it sounded like co-host Barbara Walters was trying to understand it. But the show’s other hosts — both mothers with young children — worried about whether a digital reader might impinge on the time they spend reading to their children. Here’s a complete transcript of the discussion between the four women.

(The other two hosts are sitcom star Sherri Shepherd and reality TV star Bethenny Frankel…)

*                        *                        *

WHOOPI: According to Amazon.com, sales of ebooks are outpacing the sales of actual hardcover books. So is the book on the way out?

BARBARA: I guess so.

BETHENNY: I don’t want to read The Runaway Bunny to Brin on a Kindle.

BARBARA: Why not?

BETHENNY: I just, you know, I…

SHERRI: It’s not the same.

BETHENNY: I like the turning of page and the colors and all that.

SHERRI: When Jeffrey and I — we do — it’s a bonding moment. At night, he knows, “turn off the TV, mommy.” He goes to get a book. We sit in the rocking chair. He likes to turn the pages. He likes to point. It’s the pictures. I think you lose that as a child. We’re so viral with the Twitter. We don’t pick up the phone any more. We’re texting. And you kind of lose that personal touch, when you don’t have the musty books and the yellow pages…

WHOOPI: Very few people —

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: — read the Kindle to their children. Most people still read —

BETHENNY: But that’s where we’ll go.

WHOOPI: No we won’t.

SHERRI: It just seems like —

WHOOPI: And here’s the thing. Giant books — think about it. Well, maybe this isn’t your experience. I love to read, as you know.

SHERRI: Yeah.

WHOOPI: I used to carry 30 books when I travelled. And so I’d have — and I bought bags — leather bags. 30 books, yeah, ’cause I read. I go on these long trips…

BARBARA: Well, she was on a long trip on a bus.

WHOOPI: I go on these long trips, ’cause I — you know, I don’t generally fly.

BETHENNY: Well, it takes me a month to read a book, so —

WHOOPI: So I — I eat books. I love them.

SHERRI: And you know, I think another reason why it’s outselling — the Kindle — is because a book — if you go on Amazon now, a book is sixteen bucks. And if you get it on Kindle, it’s eight. So you know, I think the price, as well…

WHOOPI: And also, I think you can carry your library with you if you go somewhere. And so I think people want to be able to do that. Books will never go out of — out of —

BARBARA: No, because there is a place for them in your home.

WHOOPI: Absolutely.

BARBARA: Books look beautiful. They feel good. That’s the great thing.

WHOOPI: Unless you decide to do it — unless you decide to buy it for children.

SHERRI: We were talking about young babies and toddlers. What about for kids who are maybe preteens and teenagers — that experience of having a book. You remember going to the library? The Dewey decimal system? That whole —

WHOOPI: Let me explain to you about books. You see these kids, how many books they’re carrying?

SHERRI: Yeah. They got a big —

WHOOPI: Do you see what they’re carrying on their backs?

BETHENNY: It’s going to be expensive to buy the devices.

WHOOPI: Actually it’s not, if the schools can get behind it. Because, what you can do is you can download your textbooks. And you can have all the books that you need. It would be great for young people. And real books — I mean, as long as kids are reading Twilight, they’re not going to want to read it on the Kindle. They want —

BETHENNY: Is the bookmark over? Is that’s what’s going to happen now? The whole bookmark industry?

WHOOPI: No. You have a different bookmark for the Kindle or the iBook or whatever you’re reading. But the greatest thing is people are still reading! That’s the most wonderful…

[APPLAUSE]

SHERRI: I remember our — my dad, the salesman came, and we had an entire shelf of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And that was the thing. We loved it when we got a new Britannica.

BETHENNY: You can look smart, too. You can have all these books at your house, and people think you’re really literary when you’re not.

WHOOPI: That’s why this guy — I wonder if this — that’s why this guy got into trouble. What do you think, Bill? I mean — did you hear about this Amish teenager who, uh — who crashed his horse and buggy during a police chase?

BETHENNY: Is this The Flintstones? What are we talking about?

WHOOPI: No! He’s facing charges of alcohol possession, and second degree reckless endangerment, and overdriving an animal after leading the police on a chase that ended when the teen crashed his horse and buggy! Come on…

SHERRI: He was Amish?

WHOOPI: He was Amish. And we’re worried about where the book is going?! Pooh! “Come on, now. Come on! Come on! He’s gaining on us! Come on, Christa, come on!”

*                        *                        *

And of course, Barbara Walters put it all into perspective. Not only is she okay with the Kindle — she’s not even worried about the police pulling over the Amish horse and buggy for drunk driving.

“Unless the horse was drunk, I don’t see what’s the big deal…”

Dr. Larry Rosen wrote an interesting article for Psychology Today. His blog is called “Rewired: The Psychology of Technology,” and Monday he confronted the argument that nonlinear reading “is changing our brain and moving us away from deep thought into more shallow thinking.”

By non-linear technology, Rosen’s referring mostly to the hyperlinked discussions which happen online, where it’s almost too easy to flit away to a new web page or a new activity (like checking your e-mail or answering instant messages). But author Nicholas Carr predicts that even reading books will soon enter this universe of “interruption” technologies, in which we’re not just reading but also simultaneously participating in a distracted online dialogue related to that same book. Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But fortunately, yesterday he received a rebuttal from Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University — who’s also an avid Kindle user!

“I bought a Kindle when they first came out in late 2007…” he remembers in his blog post, “and delighted in using it on airplane trips instead of bringing along two or three paperback books.” And Rosen ultimately sees the hyperlinking of online discussions as a good thing. (“As C.S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.'”) “What better way to read a book than to be able to share it as we are reading? Isn’t that what book clubs are all about?

“The difference here is that people will be able to read what other people think about the book as they read. They can even discuss the book live while they are reading it, not when they have read the final page…”

I have to agree. And even without joining an online discussion, I’ve been reading some free history ebooks on my Kindle, and sometimes I’ll get inspired to dig deeper into some especially intriguing details. (“Wait a minute — the re-supply ship to the Jamestown colony in 1609 actually crashed instead in Bermuda? And they only made it to America because they built two new ships while shipwrecked? And that may have inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest?“) I think one of the best things a book can do is pique your curiosity. And now it’s easier to act on that curiosity with a Kindle, since it lets you look up any word in a dictionary, and look up any topic in Wikipedia with its always-available wireless connection.

That’s ultimately going to make us smarter, not shallower. And I think this whole debate can be summed up by two brilliant sentences from author David Weinberger. “Perhaps the web isn’t shortening our attention span,” he wrote in 2002. “Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting…”

I don’t know if this is an ironic twist, but I actually read Weinberger’s defense of the web in an old-fashioned printed book. (Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web.) It was written five years before the Kindle even existed, but there’s now a neat Kindle version of his mind-boggling insights. And yesterday Dr. Rosen’s blog post seemed to make a similar argument.

Sure, teenagers may someday be participating in online discussions while they’re reading a book, but “This is way better than seeing students read the Cliff Notes or not even reading at all.” And ultimately he puts the whole debate into perspective. “As Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at UCLA and author of iBrain said discussing online reading, ‘People tend to ask whether this is good or bad.

‘My response is that the tech train is out of the station and it’s impossible to stop.'”

Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Rosen’s book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.

Click here for the Kindle version of Dr. Small’s book, iBrain: Surving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind

Click here for the Kindle version of Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Click here for the Kindle version of David Weinberger’s book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web

Ebooks and Rainy Days

July 19th, 2010

I’ve been thinking about the way I viewed books not just 10 years ago, but 20 or 30. (Before what historians will eventually call “the digital revolution”.) I remembered being a teenager and watching an old black-and-white horror movie from the 1930s — I think it was The Invisible Man Returns — but what really impressed me was the elderly British inspector in the movie who had his own cozy den that was filled with shelves of books. I remember thinking that when I was a grown-up, I also wanted a luxuriously cozy study just like that — which would also be lined with my favorite books.

And I had the same thought when I saw Bilbo’s hobbit hole in the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring

But now, instead, I have my Kindle, which can probably hold just as many books. And I have an extremely cozy armchair — so if you want to push the metaphor, I can claim that I’ve already realized my dream. But is the luxurious library itself going to become a think of the past? Maybe comfy homes of the future will have a sumptuous “library,” but containing just one single, but very elegant Kindle. It could have a special custom case — marble, maybe, or solid gold. Or maybe books will be still be collected, but as exotic antiquities from a bygone age…

Roger Ebert touched on this in the essay he wrote about how much he treasured the books he’d loved — as reminders of his experiences reading them. For example, he once lived at a place called University House.


“It had been built for troops during the war, and now housed graduate students. The water poured down the roof and collected in an exposed gutter which hurried it along somewhere downhill. I have long had this peculiar love of sitting very close to the rain and yet remaining protected — in a cafe, on a porch, next to a window, or there in that room, which had two iron-paned windows and a Dutch door. After a warning from our house mother, I’d gone to the OK Bazaar and purchased a small electric heater.”

I love reading on a rainy day, too, curled up in my cozy chair with a very good…ebook. It’s still a wonderful experience.

So maybe we don’t need the bookshelf-lined private study after all.

An original Sherlock Holmes illustration

Amazon’s most popular free mystery ebook — currently #5 on their best-seller list — is also one that my girlfriend read as part of a very strange Christmas — and a secret crime all her own…

                        *                        *                        *

The year I was 12, my brother received The Complete Sherlock Holmes for Christmas — and I received a bunch of Camp Fire Girls stuff and a copy of the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. Ick! Luckily for me, my brother didn’t really like Sherlock Holmes, any more than I wanted to read the Bobbsy Twins. (O.k., I liked them when I was 7 or 8, but really. By then my reading level had advanced to the point where I was reading real novels like The Count of Monte Cristo…)

But my brother wouldn’t give up control of his book. He hid it in his room which was, of course, completely off limits to his little sister. I am now able to confess this crime — I went into the forbidden room,
found the concealed Sherlock Holmes collection — and pilfered it! Luckily for me, he didn’t want the book, just control over it, so I read through the entire collection without him knowing it was gone. What joy!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a great writer and crafter of stories. Intricate, detailed situations with flawed characters, gripping plot lines and very surprising endings. And Doyle himself led a very intriguing life. He studied medicine at the University of Edinborough, then signed on as a ship’s doctor on a boat traveling to the West African coast.
Upon his return, he opened a doctor’s office in a small English town, but building a practice in a strange town takes time.
So while he waited for his patients, he wrote his first mysteries.

The first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in 1887. Mr. Holmes was modeled after one of Doyle’s university professors. The likeness was so good that Wikipedia says Robert Louis Stevenson (another Scotsman, then living in Samoa) recognized the professor and mentioned it in his letter of congratulations to Sir Doyle.
I’ve since become a great fan of mystery novels, soaking them up like water after a surgery and long convelescense several years ago.

But Sherlock Holmes set the standard by which I’ve judged all others. I used to think I wasn’t smart enough to solve the mysteries and just read them for the pure entertainment value. Then I started reading other mystery novels and found I could solve them as I read along. Then I rediscovered Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle!

I was originally worried that maybe my joy of reading the Sherlock Holmes stories is thus overlayed with the guilty pleasure of forbidden reading — the same joy I’d get by reading by flashlight under my covers when I was supposed to be asleep. But there they all were — The Hound of the Baskervilles (MUCH better than the movie), The Red Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Five Orange Pips, and so many more. (There are over 50 Holmes stories). There was the wonderful writing, the fascinating plots, the twisting and turning, and such a wonderful read every time. And his friend Dr. Watson was always sharing my cluelessness.

I found that I remembered the stories, but often not the ending and as I read. I recognized things as clues but still couldn’t solve the crimes by the end. (How frustrating!) I had been excited to approach these stories with my new adult mystery-solving abilites. Then I realized there is no way to solve a Sherlock Holmes crime! I’d read carefully, finding clues, making guesses, working hard at figuring out the crime, then Bam! Mr. Holmes comes up with some puzzle piece so completely out of left field that could never have figured it out.

It was the specific type of cigar ash, Watson. Surely you’ve read my monograph on different types of tobacco from all over the world and the ash each one produces. Oh, oops, silly me for forgetting the monograph!
(Which, by the way, was never available to us non-fictitious mortals….) Note to Sir A. Conon Doyle: Write the damn monograph or quit using it as the only way to solve the mystery!

                        *                        *                        *

Don’t worry, my girlfriend says she still loves all of the Sherlock Holmes books. Click here if you’d like to read a free Sherlock Holmes mystery for yourself!

Kindlerama is one of Amazon’s 50 top technology blogs — and last month they delivered an important message.

“Dear Ellora’s Cave, publisher of low quality erotica: please stop.”

I’d been wondering myself what strange thing was happening with the list of Amazon’s top 100 free ebooks — and in the form of an open letter, Kindlerama revealed the answer.

“You essentially drove up to the Kindle store in a big dumptruck, and then you dumped about sixteen tons of tripe onto it, and then –oh ho, here’s where you got sneaky! – you asked your staff, and your authors, and your author’s friends to all download copies of the titles so they’d overtake the Top 100 Free list. “

It’s a very funny blog post, but it also makes a serious point. “[Y]ou also just broke the store for everyone else; until your little tantrum of ‘look at me’ publicity subsides, we all have to sit around wondering what other titles are out there. Although my ire this morning is focused on Ellora’s Cave, it’s not the only publisher to engage in shady marketing nonsense…”

And that’s really what I’m worried about. I’ve found a lot of great free stuff by browsing Amazon’s list of the top 100 free ebooks. And Amazon has a thriving community of Kindle users sharing information in their Kindle discussion forums. I guess I’ve been thinking of those as part of the whole Kindle experience — so it’s startling when someone deliberately tries to feeds bad information into the system.

I guess I’d just like to join the warning issued by Kindlerama to the spammers who’d hijacked Amazon’s list of best-selling ebooks.

“Dear Ellora’s Cave, publisher of low quality erotica: please stop.”

Roger Ebert vs. the Kindle

July 13th, 2010

Roger Ebert

I once interviewed Roger Ebert back in 2001. (It happened via a brief e-mail exchange, I remember him as exceedingly gracious, and I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since.) But I also remember asking specifically — nine years ago — whether he had a “dream PDA” that he’d like to see someday? After all, he was a newsman (and a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.) Wouldn’t he like to read newspapers on a special tablet-sized reading device?

And his answer surprised me.


“For my news I still prefer the voluptuous combination of newsprint and coffee in the morning.”

Spoken like a newsman. Although to be fair, Ebert has always spent a lot of time surfing the web, and acknowledged that those tiny 2001 screens (and tinier keyboards) were also driving him crazy. And he was even more sensitive to the keyboard problems because — guess what? — he’s a professional writer. “A writer lives through a keyboard,” Ebert e-mailed me. “Palm Pilots are useful for people who don’t write a lot and need phone numbers, a calendar, etc.”

So now it’s 2010, and I had to wonder: had Ebert changed his mind when he heard about the Kindle?

I did a Google search to see if I could find a recent comment, and found two Ebert links that didn’t answer my question and one that did. But first I’d found a touching essay from a blogger who’s an even bigger fan of Roger Ebert fan than I am. (When his oldest son got married, the blogger wanted to present his son with a very special gift, and finally settled on: a copy of Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies. Plus two other books…) “The more I read from his keyboard, the more I understand why he won a Pulitzer and is considered America’s best pundit,” the blogger wrote.

“His love for books is obvious. And, of course, his love for books helps explain the depth of his thinking and his writing.

This is a blog primarily about business books. But underlying it is a simple love of books. Roger Ebert has given us a great read to remind us about our own love for books.”

So naturally, I followed the link…

And there I read a gloriously rambling essay by Roger Ebert himself (written just eight months ago) called Books Do Furnish a Life. During the course of it, Ebert mentions one book after another that he’s cherished through his 67 years of life, and then admits that he still has a home library that’s filled with 3,000 different books. “Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions,” he writes, including more or less “every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn.” He has trouble throwing away any of the treasured reminders of great reading experiences, and in a sweet conclusion, considers whether what he really needs is just a cozy private place where he can sit and read his favorites. Except that then he’d miss his wife.

And his other 3,000 books.

I was a little confused by the format of the blog post, but at the end Ebert seemed to approvingly quote a 22-year-old reader in Arizona who had a humorous observation of her own. “I love how the kindle is marketed as a ‘wireless reading device’ – isn’t that what a book is?” And soon I’d discovered the third link, where Roger Ebert finally shared his own personal feelings about the Kindle….

It was in a fairly technical essay where Ebert explained why he prefers seeing films in celluloid prints (vs. newer digital projection systems), titled Why I’m So Conservative.


“In the earliest days of home video, I published an article in The Atlantic calling for a ‘wood-burning cinema.” In recoil from the picture quality of early tapes, I called for the development of low-cost 16mm projectors for the home. No, this didn’t have the invisible quotation marks of satire around it. Seldom has a bright idea of mine been more excitingly insane…”

It’s hard to argue with his fondness, and the memories that go along with them. And it’s in the essay’s final sentence where he mentions the Kindle — and then brings all these themes together.


“I love silent films. I miss radio drama. In some matters, I feel almost like a reactionary. I love books, for example. Physical books with pages, bindings, tactile qualities and even smell. Once a year I take down my hardbound copy of the works of Ambrose Bierce, purchased for $1.99 by mail order when I was about 11, simply to inhale it. Still as curiously pungent as ever. I summarily reject any opportunity to read a book by digital means, no matter how fervently Andy Ihnatko praises his Kindle. Somehow a Kindle sounds like it would be useful for the wood-burning cinema.”

It’s an argument I’ve heard before, though I’ve never heard it expressed quite so eloquently. The wry resistance of my hero left me a little stunned, until I realized that the two of us also shared a tremendous common ground. After all, maybe Roger Ebert doesn’t love the Kindle.

But he definitely loves reading…

Is free porn a problem on the Kindle?
Today someone in the Kindle discussion forum complained that “the Kindle community homepage seems dominated by adult content.”

I think if anything that’s a glitch with Amazon’s automated layout. They’re generating a list for the web page of all the new products which were recently tagged with the word “Kindle”, and it’s the adult content that’s receiving that tag most often! Either the erotica fans are really conscientious about tagging these books as “Kindle,” or it’s a brilliant marketing campaign where the tag gets added repeatedly until the books leap onto Amazon’s “Kindle Community” front page!

Either way, the tags were all added recently by Amazon users, which ironically means these dirty book covers now appear under the headline “What’s Happening in the Community.”

Memorable MMF Threesome
The Cherry Cheerleaders
Confessions of a Deathmaiden
Adult Erotic Fantasies
The Disturbing Tale of Michelle and Bryce

(And the two titles below, which have since been removed from Amazon’s Kindle store…
Naughty Lesbians: Prescription for Pleasure
Nicole – Naked Twister

“I would think the community should be a ‘family friendly’ guide to Kindle,” complained one user in Amazon’s discussion forum, “but it seems that it’s more oriented toward pornographic and erotic content.” They’d contacted Amazon’s feedback address “with no response,” and encouraged more users to make their voices heard with the home page’s “send feedback” button “so that others are not inadvertently exposed to objectionable content.” But in another thread, one user reports that they received an official response from Amazon.

I’m sorry if you were offended by the contents of a tag on our website.

We understand your concern, but the tag doesn’t fall outside of our guidelines. Therefore, we cannot remove the items from the Kindle Community tag from our site. I apologize if this causes you any frustration.

We want our feature to be something that all our customers find useful…

One user even revealed that they’d found full frontal nudity in an unexpected place — on the cover of Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror classic, Frankenstein. But apparently earlier this week a bunch of erotic novels were released for free, which gave them a surge of popularity and helped them start appearing in the automatically generated lists. It’s not clear how troubling this is to most users. (“That’s the first time I’ve ever visited that page,” one user responded in Amazon’s forum, “and I don’t know that I’ll visit it in the future.”) And another poster reported the same experience: “I just don’t go to the homepage. That’s why I never saw it.” (Though they acknowledged that “Memorable MMF Threesome” was “not what I want to see either.”) One user suggested the auto-generated list didn’t need to be censored. “Well it’s not in my genre, but if Amazon sells it, there’s no reason it can’t be discussed…”

But the original poster responded that “Both the titles and covers of many of these works are overly explicit,” clarifying that their issue wasn’t with the books themselves. “I’m not suggesting Amazon shouldn’t sell this content but that it shouldn’t be included in the general Kindle Community where individuals (especially minors) can be inadvertently exposed to overt adult content.” And then one user in California hopelessly muddled the discussion by posting two words of apparent support.

“Hmmmm, smut!”

He followed up later, noting that Naughty Lesbians “is ranked 60,314 in the Kindle store. Which puts in the top ten percent. If you ask me, that’s a clear indication of what the Kindle community thinks about Naughty Lesbians: Prescription for Pleasure. Apparently, it’s better than 90% of the other Kindle books. Doesn’t sound to me like most people are offended by Kindle porn.” One novelist even suggested that the discussion was simply making more Kindle owners aware of the adult content that’s available for the Kindle. Another poster noted that “Romance readers were strong early adopters of the Kindle and buy huge amounts of content, just about all of which is probably ‘smut’ by SOMEONE’S definition.”

The discussion eventually gravitated towards a more nuanced position.

FWIW, Amazon is not “family friendly” – there’s all kinds of naughty stuff available here – and they don’t strictly moderate the forums/community areas of the site.
It’s just too daunting a task and not one they want to do… if the items in question are not breaking Amazon rules, then they may show up and Amazon is not going to stop them.

Another user even argued that protecting the impressionable was best left to the users themselves.

Like most other etailers, Amazon’s terms of service state that accounts are for those 18 and above. Children are only supposed to be accessing Amazon under parental guidance. If people follow the terms, children only see what adults allow them to see. If they don’t follow the terms, that’s not really Amazon’s fault, is it?

But for at least one Kindle owner, the incident made their day.

“I have to say, the thought of so many Kindles running around with ‘Naughty Nooners’ and other erotica on them makes me smile….”

LOLcats on the Kindle

Here’s something I never thought I’d see on the Kindle. The Lolcats!

Wait, wait, it gets better. You’ve probably already seen their crazy misspelled thoughts, spread across cat pictures capturing funny scenes and expressions. (The most famous one was a bright-eyed grey cat, smiling expectantly as he asks: “I can has cheezburger?”)* But in February of 2010, one webmaster took it to extremes, using the re-captioned cat pictures for a translation of a very unexpected book: the Bible.

“In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs….”

The book’s description on Amazon explains that “from the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew to Latin and the King’s English, the Bible has been translated into over 2000 languages. ADD ONE MORE…” Yes, the whole bible has been re-written in cat-speak, so its first book isn’t called Genesis, it’s called “Ceiling Cat Maek Awl teh Stuffz.” And Amazon’s description of the book gives you a sample of the other inspirational wisdom that waits inside…


    GIV US DIS DAY OUR DALEE CHEEZBURGER.

    AND FURGIV US FOR MAKIN YU A COOKIE, BUT EATEDING IT.

    AND WE FURGIV WEN CATS STEEL OUR COOKIEZ.

In a comment on the ebook’s Amazon page, its author explains that thousands of people helped with the translation project as a collective effort. Martin Grodin saw himself as more of an editor for the project, and the painstaking editing for each misspelled cat-translation of the Bible stories “made me realize that it is, in fact, hilarious.” At times it’s like reading an insane version of Finnegan’s Wake, since you’re decoding the misspelled cat words using half-remembered biblical stories. And there’s more text than pictures — though sometimes its broken up by a long line of kitten paw prints.

There are pictures in the book, though I had to read all the way to Genesis 2:19 until I found the second one — a picture of two cats resting to indicate Eve’s arrival in the Garden of Eden. (“Oh hai! yu can has frend. She liek yu but missin sometings.”) The text is also available on a web site, but I thought they also did a nice job of formatting it for the Kindle. There’s 176 pages of craziness, and though the book costs $9.32, there’s still fun to be had even if you only order the book’s free sample.

Because even the book’s table of contents is still pretty funny.

Teh Plague ov Owchie-Blisturs
“Leev Egypt, Nao!”
Crossin’ teh Reed Sea
Jonah an teh Big Fishie
Wawter into Booze…
Happy Cat Walks on Wawter
Parable ov teh Niec Samaritan Dood
Teh Last Cheezburg Feest
Happy Cat rises from teh Deds
Awl Fings Brite an Purtyful

Yes, Jesus in the LOLcat bible becomes “Happy Cat”. And as an amusing bit of related trivia, Amazon’s Kindle store doesn’t seem to have any free editions of the real bible (without LOLcats). If you wanted to download a free bible to your Kindle, you could still get one from Project Gutenberg.

But then you wouldn’t get any funny pictures of cats!

UPDATE: It turns out there is now a free version of the (real) Bible available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

And Click here to order LOLcat Bible: In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs

P.S. This book is not to be confused with “I CAN HAZ BYTECODE,” a “collection of funny and occasionally thought provoking tweets based on my work experience as a Super Senior Software Engineer at a Silicon Valley startup!”

The Ghost of Fu-Manchu

July 7th, 2010

The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer - original book cover

My girlfriend shares her report about a very exciting free ebook…

            *            *            *

After watching the movie Charlie Chan on Treasure Island, I’d decided to read the original mystery novels where the detective solves crimes in his calm yet brilliant way. And I’d found all of the original novels available on the Kindle! Score!

Behind That Curtain
Charlie Chan Carries On
Keeper of the Keys

But wait, there’s more… While doing research on the Chan books and their author, Earl Derr Biggers, I discovered that Charlie Chan was created as a deliberate alternative to Chinese supervillains like Dr. Fu-Manchu. I’ve heard about Fu Manchu all my life, but had no real understanding of the character. I knew what his mustache looks like, but that’s about it.

Figuring that my public library wouldn’t have any of the Fu-Manchu books — being as they are not, shall we say, politically correct — I took my search to the Kindle. Lots of Fu-Manchu! So I started with the first book in the series: “The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu.”

Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (writing under the much more sexy name of Sax Rohmer) created the character of the evil Dr. Fu-Manchu. Sax belonged to the Golden Dawn, a real-life mystical society that combined Masonic rituals with ancient Egyptian Rosacrucion mysticism, along with other ancient mystical writings. Their first temple, which had opened in London in 1888, drew in the young writer and influenced his choice of a pen name — and the first Fu-Manchu stories, which almost drip with mysterious dangers from the Orient. Sax describes Fu-Manchu as “a person tall, lean and feline… a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green, invest him with all the cruel cunning of the entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect.”

This fast-paced action novel goes from one dangerous scene to another across London. In general, I enjoy reading novels from different eras, as they immerse you in another time and place, with barely time to rest or take repast — er, eat. But honestly, it was hard to get past the rampant racism of this guy. Sax Rohmer makes sure to mention the danger to the entire white race (italics not mine) with phrases like “the complete destruction of the White Race” and “Yellow Peril.” (You can almost hear the creepy music and dramatic pauses as you read.)

I wondered about the repetitive use of these shocking phrases over and over again, until I found out the story was published in installments from 1912-1913. From one month to the next, Sax wanted to make sure his audience didn’t forget the evil dangers posed by the great Fu Manchu. I was glad to read on Wikipedia that Sax was often attacked, even shortly after the first stories were published, for creating such a blatantly racist character, though he posed as “bemused” at the furor. Instead he defended his novels by saying that the portrait was “fundamentally truthful” because “criminality was often rampant among the Chinese,” especially in the Chinese ghetto of the time.

It’s easy to be bemused when the money is rolling in…

Sax was very prolific. Wikipedia lists over 50 books and short story compilations, and many of the stories were made into movies. As an interesting aside, Warner Oland, the Swedish actor who played Charlie Chan in the movies until his death in 1938, also played Fu-Manchu in the first three movies.

Ironically, after a lifetime of noxious stories about the mysterious dangers of the Orient, Sax Rohmer died…of the Asian flu.

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that Sax Rohmer has another book that’s already in Amazon’s Top 50 classic ebooks: Brood of the Witch-Queen!

One Amazon reviewer called it the scariest and eeriest books they had ever read in their life….

Or click here to buy the original Charlie Chan novels as ebooks

Behind That Curtain
Charlie Chan Carries On
Keeper of the Keys

I can’t believe I wrote about free ebooks for the 4th of July — and forgot to mention the Declaration of Independence!

It’s a surprisingly detailed snapshot of life in America in 1776 — but what’s really interesting is that it’s impossible to buy a free copy directly from Amazon’s Kindle store! There’s over 117 different ebooks about the Declaration of Independence for sale in the store — but they’ll all cost you at least 99 cents.

So how can you read a free copy of the Declaration of Independence? Just click on this link. Nearly 40 years ago, a student at the University of Illinois launched a mission to make the great works of literature available for free to the general public. Remembering the man who’d revolutionized the world of reading by inventing the first mechanical printing press, he named his collection “Project Gutenberg”. By 2009, they’d created over 30,000 free e-texts, according to Wikipedia. And it’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of a lot of geeks online.

But here’s my favorite part of the story. He’d launched this lifelong campaign back in 1971, anticipating all the great literature that he’d be sharing with the entire world, and even making available for new generations to come. So on that first day, 39 years ago, which great work of literature did he choose as the very first one?

The Declaration of Independence.

The only small complaint that I have is that before you get to the text that Thomas Jefferson worked on, there’s an explanatory text about the history of the 1971 e-file — but if you’re a geek, that’s kind of itneresting too. “The title was stored in an emailed instruction set which required a tape or diskpack be hand mounted for retrieval. The diskpack was the size of a large cake in a cake carrier, cost $1500, and contained 5 megabytes, of which this file took 1-2%…

“The 10,000 files we hope to have online by the end of 2001 should take about 1-2% of a comparably priced drive in 2001.”

But of course, seven years later the world of book storage was revolutionized again. By the Kindle!