October 17th, 2013
I really enjoyed CNN’s review of the newest Kindle Paperwhite, which they’d called “the best digital reader ever.” So I had to laugh when I saw a review for Amazon’s new color table, the Kindle Fire HDX. Business Insider gave a review with a headline that was exactly opposite. They wrote that newest Kindle Fire was “Not The Best Tablet You Can Buy”.
But they still called it Amazon’s best tablet ever.
So what did they like about the tablet? First, its 7-inch screen “is sharper than the relatively weak display on Apple’s iPad Mini”. And the design of the tablet has been improved too, so it’s now got a comfortable angular shaped (as opposed to the box-with-rounded-corners design of the earlier Kindle Fires). Their reviewer, Steve Kovach, ultimately concludes that the device’s battery life was “pretty good,” lasting about six or seven hours on a single charge. And I think that’s a bigger deal than he recognizes, because high-definition screens always do tend to use up more of your battery’s charge.
So what didn’t he like? Hisfirst real complaint seemed to be that Amazon’s app store has a lot fewer apps than Google’s own app store (which is available on most other devices). He even writes that the selection of apps for the Kindle Fire is “tiny” — just 85,000, versus the nearly 1 million that are available in Google’s store. But ultimately I think the reviewer makes a mistake when he writes that the Kindle Fire is “missing” popular Google services like YouTube and Gmail. You can watch YouTube videos just fine on a Kindle Fire if you download a free third-party app like FREEdi YouTube player — and you can also set up the e-mail application on your Kindle Fire so it’s downloading its email from Gmail.
I think Business Insider makes that mistake because it fits into their larger percerption — that just like the earlier version of the tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX “is a pitchman that tries to entice you to buy more stuff from Amazon at every turn…. The tablet is constantly encouraging you to dip into the bank and buy more stuff from Amazon.” But their reviewer acknowledges that there’s a perfectly good reason why Amazon is doing this, calling it “part of the reason why you can get the Kindle Fire HDX for just $229.”
But the most interesting line of his review isn’t even in the review, but in the author’s byline, which includes this disclaimer. “Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.” On the one hand, you could worry about what happens when our news outlets are being purchased by the people that they’re supposed to be covering. But on the other hand, it seems pretty clear that their reviewers still aren’t pulling any punches!
I think my favorite line of the review came when they were discussing one of the newest features on the Kindle Fire HDX — its “Mayday” button, which instantly connects you to live a human being who can help you with technical problems. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has always insisted that customer service is a big part of what made his company so successful, and even Business Insider applauded their newest approach. “[I]t’s pretty cool that Amazon has invested so heavily in customer service that it has real humans waiting to help you out 24/7 at the push of a button.
“That’s much better than running down to the Apple Store and waiting forever for a Genius to help you!”
October 14th, 2013
Monday is “Columbus Day” in America, remembering the day in 1492 when the European explorer finally succeeded in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and “discovering” North America. (And it’s also celebrated in some Latin American countries as Dia de la Raza, and as Discovery Day in the Bahamas, according to Wikipedia.) It’s a federal holiday in the United States, so the banks and the post office will be closed. But fortunately, there’s lots of ways to celebrate Columbus Day with your Kindle – including several free ebooks!
I remember being fascinated last year when I learned exactly what happened when Columbus approached Queen Isabella’s court. I’d been taught for years that 15th-century scholars insisted that the world was flat, while brave Columbus had argued that no, the planet was round. But it turns out that’s a horrific myth, and “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars…” according to Stephen Jay Gould (in a book cited by Wikipedia). And I’d also discovered another startling truth while browsing Wikipedia with my Kindle: that Christopher Columbus story has a surprising connection to a very famous American author from the 1800s.
He wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as well as Rip Van Winkle and Washington Irving was one of the first American authors to gain literary recognition in Europe. (Both those stories were part of a larger collection called The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which is available as a free Kindle eBook!) But Washington Irving also perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes, placing fake newspaper ads seeking a fictitious Dutch historian named Diedrich Knickerbocker, and threatening to publish his left-behind manuscript to cover unpaid bills! Though in fact Irving had written the manuscript himself, and it became a best-seller when he finally had it published! (That book is also available as a free Kindle ebook…)
Another story about the author says that Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was even interested in him romantically, according to Wikipedia. And yet after an early spark of youthful success, the critics began panning Irving’s books, and by the age of 41, Irving was facing financial difficulties. But his past literary success earned him an appointment in 1826 as an American diplomatic attache in Spain. And it was there that he gained access to historical manuscripts about Columbus that had only recently been made available to the public.
Irving used them to write The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, a work of historical fiction which became wildly popular in both the United States and Europe. By the end of the century, the book would be published in over 175 editions. Yes, it’s also available as a free ebook for the Kindle, though for some reason only Volume 2 is available in the free edition. (“…a new scene of trouble and anxiety opened upon him, destined to impede the prosecution of his enterprises, and to affect all his future fortunes.”) But the important thing to remember is it was written as an imaginative work of historical fiction. “Irving based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives,” notes Wikipedia, but Columbus “also added imaginative elements, aimed at sharpening the story.”
Another 19th-century American also assembled his own exhaustive biography about the life of Columbus. Edward Everett Hale is most famous for the patriotic short story, The Man Without a Country. But he also created a scholarly work called The Life of Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time. You can download it for free from Amazon’s Kindle store, and savor the historic moment when Columbus first makes contact with the New World. “It was on Friday, the twelfth of October, that they saw this island… When they were ashore they saw very green trees and much water, and fruits of different kinds.”
There’s also a historical book called Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery that was published in 1906. It’s scattered as free ebooks throughout Amazon’s Kindle store, though it’s Volume 2 where Columbus first makes landfall. (“…it was a different matter on Friday morning, October 12, 1492, when, all having been made snug on board the Santa Maria, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas put on his armour and his scarlet cloak over it and prepared to go ashore.”)
This text was prepared by Project Gutenberg, and this particular paragraph comes with a disillusioning footnote. Columbus may have recorded the date of his landfall as October 12, but “This date is reckoned in the old style. The true astronomical date would be October 21st, which is the modern anniversary of the discovery.” Columbus may be one of those historical figures who’s become so familiar, that we actually don’t know him at all!
* * *
Click Here to Read about Columbus on Wikipedia
Free ebooks about Columbus:
October 10th, 2013
You hear it all the time. People want to gush about how happy they are — after a good meal, for example — and they’ll say “This is the best sandwich ever.” I always smile, since you can’t actually have surveyed every single sandwich ever created in the history of time. But it is possible to test out every Kindle, every Nook, and every digital reading device ever made. Someone’s finally done a comparison of every single device, and they’ve declared that Amazon’s newest Kindle Paperwhite is, in fact, the best digital reader ever.
It was CNN.
America’s prestigious 24-hour news channel just posted a new review of the next generation of Kindle Paperwhite — and I’ve never seen such a positive review. “Once upon a time, there was an argument to be made for the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader,” the article begins, “but with the introduction of the Kindle Paperwhite last fall, that battle turned from competitive to no contest.” They applaud the thin, light design of the new devices, saying the Kindle Paperwhite ” finds a perfect sweet spot of size and weight without becoming too difficult to handle or feeling too cheap.” And they also loved the display of the Paperwhite, noting it’s high-contrast and the way it refreshes the words on the screen quickly.
Even while they were complaining that Amazon’s estimate of the battery life might be a little high, they admit that most users will be able to read on the new Paperwhite for several weeks before having to recharge it. And they even praised the touchscreen interface for being quick to respond to the user’s touches. I know people who love their Kindles, but it’s really impressive that one of their new fans is CNNMoney — which is also the online home for two well-respected American finance magazines, Fortune and Money. And according to Wikipedia, more than 10.8 million people visit the CNN Money site each month — so this could become a very influential review.
But there was also a very interesting twist. One of the advantages CNN cited for the Paperwhite was the exclusive-to-Amazon “Kindle Singles” — the short, cheap works written by established authors, which you can’t get on any other device. And they cited something which I agree is one of the most compelling features about Amazon’s ecosystem: the Kindle Lending Library, which lets you borrow one ebook from the library each month without having to pay for it.
Of course, to be fair, the Nook lets you read almost any ebook for free — if you’re willing to actually take your Nook into a Barnes and Noble Store. But CNN’s reviewer wasn’t swayed, and came down unequivocally in favor of the new Kindle Paperwhite. Their conclusion?
“Ultimately there’s no reason not to buy an Amazon e-reader right now. It provides the best hardware and the best ecosystem.”
October 8th, 2013
I noticed something funny this morning when I went to Amazon to buy a Kindle Paperwhite. I couldn’t do it! Amazon isn’t able to ship the new Kindle Paperwhite any time this week, and is warning customers that if they purchase one, Amazon’s warehouse will actually ship it out “in 7 to 10 days”.
What’s really interesting is the new Kindle Paperwhite has only been available for nine days. But Amazon had been taking pre-orders since September 3rd, when they first announced the next-generation of their popular high-contrast (and glowing) screen. (“World’s best-selling e-reader now even better,” read the headline on Amazon’s press release…) And what’s even stranger is the 10-day delays may actually be an improvement. Friday one technology blog reported that Amazon was warning customers that the new Paperwhites would be shipping from their warehouses “in four to six weeks!”
Amazon prefixed Friday’s warning about a shipping delay with the words “Due to popular demand”, according to the technology blog — a nice way to acknowledge that their newest Kindle has been very popular. But Amazon also put a new restriction on Kindle purchases: “Limited to two per customer.” I no longer see that restriction on the Kindle Paperwhite page today — which is almost even more disturbing. Does this mean that Amazon has suddenly caught up with the initial onslaught of orders, and now has enough Paperwhites to last through a delay that they thought would last three weeks? Or did one of their suppliers suddenly resolve a problem getting the components to build the devices — so they can now start producing them at a faster rate. This is good news for Amazon’s customers — since their “countdown to Kindles” is now much shorter.
Still, you might want to get your order in early if you’re thinking about buying one of Amazon’s newest Kindle Paperwhites. There’s no guarantee that the shipping delay will remain at 7 to 10 days — and the delays could be even longer when more people start purchasing Kindles as a gift for Christmas. Maybe the new Kindle Paperwhite will be this year’s “Cabbage Patch Kid” — a gift so popular that it’s impossible to get, which makes more people want to buy them just so they can re-sell them at a profit. If that actually happened, then the delays get longer and longer — and you’d have a much harder time getting your own Kindle Paperwhite any time before January!
I wondered if Amazon might sell the previous generation of Kindle Paperwhites, but they obviously want to make sure their customers are only getting the very latest technology But what’s more interesting is that even before the new Kindle Paperwhite was released, Amazon was already sold out of the previous model. In fact, I have to applaud the technology site Geek.com, which reported in August that Amazon was already sold out of the WiFi-only Paperwhites. Because they correctly recognized that this was a sign that Amazon was about to release a new model of the Paperwhite — and that prediction was spot-on, because Amazon did just that, just six days later. (“Get your wallets ready,” Geek.com had urged their readers….)
And that’s still good advice — especially since supplies may be running out, at least temporarily, for the new Kindle Paperwhite.
October 4th, 2013
Amazon’s just released a new ad for their Kindle Paperwhite — and I wish I could put it into a time capsule. Because it perfectly captures a moment in the evolution of reading. Of course, from Amazon’s perspective, it’s just another way of reaching out to the people who are still resisting the idea of reading ebooks on a Kindle. But they came up with a really clever way to do it — and it makes for some very compelling viewing!
You can watch the video of this ad — and all of Amazon’s newest Kindle ads — at YouTube.com/Kindle . This one is called simply “Real People, Genuine Reactions to the All-New Kindle Paperwhite “. And it’s the candid reactions that make it so much fun to watch! Amazon filmed people using their newest Kindle — and caught their reactions on a hidden camera!
“This is amazing…”
Amazon’s narrator explains enthusiastically that “We invited book lovers to try the new Kindle Paperwhite” — but that’s really an understatement. Because Amazon actually set up a miniature living room in the middle of a city plaza — and then invited people to sit down in its overstuffed furniture! It’s a nice gimmick, and it seems to have really made Amazon’s “test subjects” comfortable enough to open about their feelings on books. “I’m such a passionate reader,” one of their subjects explained — and another added “When I’m reading a book, and I really love what I’m reading, I get lost in the story!” But what’s remarkable is how specific they get about the advantages of the Kindle.
“It’s as clear as a book…”
“There’s no glare from the sun.”
“A thousand books in your back pocket?”
“The Kindle is fantastic!”
Of course, by identifying the people in their ads as “book lovers,” Amazon is making a specific point of their own: that reading on a Kindle is just as much fun as reading a print book. (“I love it!” gushes one of their subjects at one point.) And another one even jokes that when Amazon’s through interviewing them about their new Kindles, “We’re not giving ‘em back!” But one of the most touching reactions came from what looks like a couple who has been together for a long time.
The husband, looking off towards the future, murmurs reflectively, “We might have to get two…”
Remember, you can watch the video of this ad — and all of Amazon’s newest Kindle ads — at YouTube.com/Kindle
October 1st, 2013
For two weeks straight, I spent every waking minute trying to finish my first free app. But it’s finally here, and here’s the big announcement: it’s ready for downloads from Amazon’s “Apps for Android” Store. Unfortunately, it’s not available yet for the Kindle Fire (or for any Apple devices). But you can still download it now to your Android tablet — or even to an Android smartphone!
Yes, the app is called “500 Inspiring Quotes,” and it came out much better than I expected. My girlfriend took a wonderful photo during a visit to Alameda’s Crown Beach, and the night that I finally released my app, I surprised her by including it as the app’s “cover photo!” For over a year I’ve been struggling to learn how to write a computer program. That night was my chance to prove that I could really do it.
Everything in the app was meant to be both simple and positive, and I read thousands and thousands of quotes searching for 500 that could always deliver a real lift whenever you sat down to read them. There’s quotes by everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld to Winston Churchill, Voltaire, and even Cervantes. But I also worked in quotes from some of my favorite authors — like Jack Kerouac, Toni Morrison, Henry Miller, and Mark Twain.
There’s not any ads in the app, since it was never meant to make money — just to share some warm moments of inspiration. And ultimately, it was a very personal experience, since I was weighing the words of the greatest minds of our civilization — and then trying to cherry-pick
the words which would mean the most to the people who read them. I found some surprisingly great quotes from unexpected sources, like Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy and even tennis player John McEnroe. And this also gave me a chance to include some nice thoughts from both Roger Ebert and Annette Funicello, who both died this year, but are living on in their words.
In the end I even spent part of my birthday looking for more inspiring quotes — since it took a long time to find over 500 of them. So this app represents a personal triumph for me in more than one way. I finished all the quote-gathering, and finished all of the computer programming too. And now instead of downloading apps for my device, I can upload one instead, to share it with everyone else!
It’s ultimately given my app a very interesting relationship with Amazon. More than two years ago, Amazon started an Android store so they’d have their own place for selling apps when they eventually launched the Kindle Fire (back in the autumn of 2011). But all of those apps in Amazon’s store are also available on other Android devices, which is how you can download my app to other non-Amazon tablets and Android smartphones. Because my app is an Android app, I also uploaded it to Google’s own app store (the Google “Play Store”), which ended up with a very funny twist for this Kindle-loving man.
Even though I was trying to build an app for the Kindle Fire, so far (through the Google Play Store), it’s only available on the Nook!
September 23rd, 2013
Sometimes there’s so much interesting Kindle news, it’s hard to know where to start writing! Here’s a “lightning round” of some of the most interesting new developments in the Kindle world…
Amazon’s Discounting Kindle ebooks if You’ve Already Purchased a Print Edition!
I hadn’t really grasped the full significance of this, until Amazon’s Kindle Content Vice President turned up in an article about the upcoming upgrade to the Kindle Paperwhite. There’s a new service from Amazon called “Matchbook” which will let you buy the Kindle ebook version of print books you’ve bought from Amazon — even if you bought the book sometime long ago over the last 18 years! “If you logged onto your CompuServe account during the Clinton administration and bought a book like Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus from Amazon, Kindle MatchBook now makes it possible for that purchase—18 years later—to be added to your Kindle library at a very low cost,” explained Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content.
What The Kindle Paperwhite Really Means?
Everyone’s speculating on what clues we can learn about Amazon’s future plans from their upgrade to the Kindle Paperwhite. I thought The Huffington Post came up with a fairly skeptical take.. (“The upgraded Paperwhite comes at a time when sales of tablets — from companies like Apple, Samsung, Asus and Amazon itself — have eaten into sales of ereaders. Sales of Kindle ereaders — which make up almost half of ereader sales worldwide — peaked in 2011 and are expected to continue to decline over the next five years, according to IDC. The technology research firm predicts a drop in all ereader sales from a peak of 26.4 million worldwide in 2011 to 11.7 million in 2017.”) Although towards the end of their article, they talked to an analyst who says Amazon underestimated just how popular color tablet computers would become — but that ultimately, this may have just spawned a new strategy for Amazon, of focusing on that “small, voracious reader group” who still prefer a dedicated black-and-white reading device.
The analyst points out, “It also happens that they’re the ones that buy the most books!”
And Amazon insists they’re still committed to their dedicated digital readers, according to USA Today‘s interview with Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, who announces confidently that “based on everything we know today there’ll be many more generations of our e-reading devices from here!”
Amazon’s Still Making TV Shows
There’s still moments of giddy euphoria where it feels like the entire world of media is being re-invented by the biggest technology companies. (It still feels exciting and new for me to watch blockbuster Hollywood movies on my hand-held Kindle Fire tablet — and even episodes of TV shows!) But even then, it still felt weird when Amazon announced last year that they were now producing their own digital TV shows — including one that starred John Goodman. That show was called Alpha House — its first episode had a funny cameo by Bill Murray — and it was one of the most popular shows among online voters when Amazon debuted it last year. And now Amazon’s announced that when they release new episodes — later this year and early next — they’ll be adding even more familiar big-name TV stars to the program. (Specifically, Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City, Wanda Sykes from Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Amy Sedaris from Strangers with Candy. The show is a political satire written by Garry Trudeau, the cartoonist who created the newspaper comic strip Doonesbury — and I’m impressed by the way it tells a story and gets its laughs without specifically attacking any political targets…other than hypocrisy.
Amazon’s Warehouses Are Still Amazing
This last item isn’t really a news story, but it’s still fascinating. Towards the bottom of their article about the Kindle Paperwhite, The Huffington Post came up with some fascinating photos of the inside of an Amazon warehouse. It made me realize that, while I’ve imagined the stacks and stacks of books, I’ve never actually seen them! And there’s even more there than I’d ever dared to dream.
The future is a wonderful and unpredictable thing. I guess it pays to stop once in a while, and at least appreciate how wonderful the present can be, too!
September 17th, 2013
I always get a chuckle out of the funny reviews customers leave at Amazon — and apparently they’ve now become a regular part of Amazon’s own promotional materials! Today on the front page of Amazon, they’ve included a banner ad pointing to a “second installment” of their collection of the funniest customer reviews. “Back by customer demand,” Amazon’s ad proclaims — urging visitors to read the list “and submit your own favorites.” And this time, the funny reviews are for some even stranger products.
For a shortcut to the reviews, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/MoreFunnyAmazonReviews. Here’s a list of the 10 more strange products where Amazon’s acknowledging the fake reviews.
Wenger 16999 Swiss Army Knife Giant
JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank (“Currently unavailable”)
Some of my favorites are for the “Wenger 16999 Swiss Army Knife Giant”, a 7.2-pound rectangle that’s filled with dozens of additional utensils. “I’ve always wanted to own a pocket knife that was too large to fit in my pocket and here it is!” joked one customer named “MrLiar”. And another funny review made the same point in a story. “Found this stuck into a stone while on vacation… Unfortunately, it turns out that removing it made me the new king of Switzerland, which is a lot of responsibility.”
Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the fantasy ends and the real product begins — for example, in the reviews Amazon linked to for the “UFO-02 Detector”. Retailing for just $74.95, it comes in an “elegantly designed transparent plastic case” which lets you monitor its 16 LEDs which will flash and beep simultaneously when it detects any electromagnetic anomalies. One unconvinced reviewer posted simply that it wasn’t working, and “I am still getting abducted by UFO’s on a regular basis.” Ironically, when you pull up page on Amazon, they’ve included a link to a buyer’s guide about radar detectors — in case you want to compare their respective abilities to detect UFOs.
But best of all, another funny review was actually posted by George Takei — an actor from the original Star Trek series (and now a popular online celebrity). “I purchased this gizmo to play a prank on my husband Brad, who still prattles on about his ‘fourth-kind’ encounter when he was just thirteen…” Takei writes in his review. But that night when the 16 LED lights started their bleeping and flashing, Takei complains that he was confronted by an extra-terrestrial manifestation who’d come to warn him that “what we loosely dub the Singularity was only the beginning of a limitless existence unbounded by physical space and time, and that sugar-free alternatives are actually WORSE for us than the real deal…!”
4,714 Amazon customers voted his review as helpful!
Read all the new funny, fake Amazon reviews at:
September 10th, 2013
We’ve had a lot of fun laughing at the funny fake reviews people have posted on Amazon. And I was really impressed when Amazon joined in the fun last month, posting their own list of their favorite funny customer reviews. But this month, it’s taken an even stranger turn. Because customers are now leaving fake reviews on works of fine art, which are being sold on Amazon for millions of dollars!
“Is shipping extra?” joked one review. “Not expensive enough,” joked another — one of many reviewers pretending to be the kind of people who could actually afford to purchase a $4.5 million painting. “I was debating between this and a Minnie Mouse poster for my daughter’s room,” joked another reviewer located in San Jose.”Bought this one and put it up.
“I don’t think she quite likes it, so I will probably have to still buy the Minnie Mouse poster…”
The $4.5 million painting is by Norman Rockwell, and Amazon describes it as a recently discovered oil-on-canvas — part of a series of paintings about a young U.S. soldier named Willie Gillis. (“According to the Wall Street Journal, it ‘hung in the headquarters of an undisclosed local company since 1968, when heirs of the painting’s original owner gave it to the corporation during a merger’…”) The Journal notes that it’s rare when a new painting by the artist actually becomes available for purchase. But it’s probably even more rare for them to be sold through Amazon.com.
“After years of living with this ugly crack in my basement wall I finally found the right size painting to cover it!” joked another fake review of the $4.5-million painting. (It was voted “Helpful” by 17 out of 27 reviewers…) And it’s not the only expensive painting which is drawing some sarcastic comments about its price tag, since Amazon’s also selling an original painting by Andy Warhol for $1.45 million. “Pick up two or three if you can get your hands on them,” suggested one reviewer. And another reviewer even told a longer story about “improving” the painting with a bottle of Lysol.
“I looked closely at it with a flashlight, but I didn’t see any numbers so they must just leave it up to the buyer to add his or her favorite colors wherever…”
Amazon entered the art marketplace just last month, announcing that “We’re thrilled to bring the excitement and emotional connection of art to our customers…” They’ve lined up more than 40,000 works of fine art from over 150 galleries and dealers, and more than 4,500 artists, according to Amazon’s press release. (“We are excited to bring one of the largest selections of fine art direct from galleries to our customers…”) Though it still makes me laugh when paintings with a multi-million dollar price tag are listed with the same buttons as other Amazon products — like “Add to Wish List” and “Add to Cart”.
Most of the paintings are actually listed for less than $10,000, so it’s not just millionaires who could consider a purchase. And to be fair, at least one of the galleries — Paddle8 Editions — actually sells their artworks solely to raise money for non-profits and cultural institutions, and they’re actually pretty excited about the opportunity to reach even more customers. But it’s hard to overlook the oddity of selling fine art on the same web site that sells rubber horse masks and educational uranium samples — and to let random shoppers leave behind their reviews. When they first launched their fine art page, Amazon was even offering a chance to purchase a Claude Monet painting — L’Enfant a la tasse — for $1.45 million.
“Very amateurish quality,” joked one reviewer who called himself Art Guy. “My 9-year old son could do a better job…!”
September 4th, 2013
I just made a startling discovery. Amazon discounted a bunch of ebooks last month — but they’re still offering those same discounts for most of those books in September! For example, I’d spotted three great ebooks last month that were on sale – and I’m delighted to see that they’re all still available at a discounted price. Amazon’s offering discounts on a Kindle ebook about one of the world’s most popular detectives, one of the world’s most popular rock and roll bands, and one very popular recent TV show.
But hurry! I don’t know how long these special discounts will last…
Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie ($2.99)
There’s a fascinating story behind this mystery novel. Agatha Christie wrote nearly 70 mystery novels during a career which spanned nearly 60 years — including 12 about a detective named Miss Marple — but in 1976, after Christie’s death at the age of 85, her very last Miss Marple novel was published posthumously. And Amazon’s now offering a discount on its Kindle ebook edition. It’s already become Amazon’s #256 best-selling ebook in the entire Kindle Store — and its #1 best-selling mystery in Amazon’s “British Detectives” category. I like how one reviewer noted that the 224-page thriller finds Miss Marple self-effacing and shrewd, “almost as if she knew she wouldn’t be around much longer”, and she warns a couple who move into a mysterious new house that a murder in the past is like a sleeping murder…which just might wake up!
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Thirty Years Married to a Rolling Stone by Jo Wood ($2.99)
Yes, it’s Ron Wood’s wife — offering up what Amazon promises is a “behind-the-scenes portrait of one of the biggest rock bands in history. Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones’ guitarist, had already written a best-selling biography about his own life, but it’s interesting to get some perspective from one of the bandmember’s wives, who according to the book’s description delivers a “startlingly honest, laugh-out-loud memoir vividly describes life on tour, in the studio, at the legendary parties — and every raucous moment in between.” (At one point, her husband announces that he’s leaving her for an 18-year-old waitress…)
The book is illustrated with never-before-seen photographs from her personal collection, creating “a compelling piece of rock ‘n’ roll history from a woman with a backstage pass and a front-row seat,” Amazon adds, noting that mixed in with the euphoria and the recklnessness is a story that’s “Enchanting, candid, and moving… [a] page-turning fairy tale of fame and fortune.”
How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein ($2.99)
“It was not a drunken cartographer after all,” jokes one Amazon reviewer, applauding this book for uncovering the forgotten stories from American history that explain the surprisingly and unusual decisions that went into each state’s boundary lines. (“In 1846,” notes Publisher’s Weekly, “Washington D.C. residents south of the Potomac successfully petitioned to rejoin Virginia…order to keep out free African-Americans.”) Why does Delaware actually own a small part of the southwest short of New Jersey? Why does Rhode Island even have “island” in it’s name? It turns out that there’s actually answers that explain the strange shapes of all the states on America’s map. “When I lived in Mobile, I puzzled for years over Alabama’s ‘tab’ at the south,” notes one Amazon reviewer. “My guess was that it had something to do with giving the state a gulf shoreline. (Maybe for condos?)” But thanks to this book, the reviewer finally discovered the real answer: “It’s all Florida’s fault.
Note: Amazon’s also offering a discount on the professionally-narrated audiobook version of How the States Got Their Shape. When you purchase the ebook, you can then purchase the audiobook for just $3.99!
Remember: there’s also new discounted ebooks each month at
September 3rd, 2013
Big news! There’s a new version of the Kindle Paperwhite! Amazon’s just revealed all the improvements — and posted an inspiring message about them on the front page of Amazon.com.
We believe in the power and importance of reading. We are passionate about books. Books convey knowledge, spread ideas, and can transport you into alternate lives and worlds. It’s why we’re working so hard to help people readm ore and get more out of reading…
Today we’re excited to announce another milestone in our journey — the all-new Kindle Paperwhite.
For a shortcut to Amazon’s page about their newest Kindle, just point your web browser to:
So what’s new in Amazon’s latest and greatest Kindle Paperwhite? First off, they’ve added some new technology to the display, so the contrast is even higher. And they’re also promising that the built-in glow effect is now coming from a “next generation” light. Inside the Kindle, its computer chips are supposed to be 25% faster, so the pages will turn faster when you’re reading an ebook, and you’ll wait a little bit less when you first open it for the text to appear on your screen. And apparently Amazon has made the touchscreen even more responsive for the new Kindle Paperwhite. According to their press release, its touch grid is now “19% tighter” — making it respond even more accurately, even to very light touches.
“The new Paperwhite is our best ever, with a new higher contrast display…” Amazon promises. And they’ve also added some brand new features…
- “Page Flip” — a new feature which lets you skip ahead to another chapter (or even to skim through books, page by page…)
- “Vocabulary Builder” — the new Kindle Paperwhite now keeps track of which words you’ve looked up, and then automatically creates flashcards which you can review later
- Goodreads Integration — They’re integrating content from Goodreads.com so it’s available from your ebooks, so you’ll be able to share your recommendations while you’re thinking about them and interact with other “like-minded readers…and decide what to read next!”
- “Smart Lookup” – Instead of just giving you a dictionary definition of individual words, Smart Lookup can recognize important topics and phrases, according to Amazon’s press release, and can provide more detailed information information.
Amazon ended their note with a reminder that for the last six years, the Kindle has been the best-selling e-reader in the world — and that when it comes to innovation, “No one is investing on behalf of readers or pushing the boundaries of hardware, software, and content for readers like the Kindle team.”
“We hope you enjoy the new Kindle Paperwhite. Happy reading.”
The new Kindle Paperwhites will start shipping this month — on Monday, September 30th — but you can already pre-order them now. For a shortcut, just point your web browser to:
August 29th, 2013
Today is Michael Jackson’s birthday — and on Facebook, his personal chef promised it wouldn’t be forgotten. Today at his restaurant in Oakland, California, he’s expecting a flash mob to honor what would’ve been the singer’s 55th birthday — all dressed as Michael Jackson. And it got me thinking how in cities all across America, we all have a place for music in our lives– even if the ways that we’re listening to it are changing fast. (Nowadays if I’m listening to music, it’s probably on my smartphone or on my Kindle!)
And recently Amazon distributed one of the most fascinating press releases about music that I’ve ever seen. Earlier this summer, Amazon crunched through their statistics to try to determine who loved music the most — or at least, which cities were purchasing the most music. They compiled “per capita” figures to determine which cities had the most musical purchases per person. And then they announced the complete list — which they called “Cities That Rock” — revealing not just which cities bought the most music, but what kinds of music were most popular there!
For example, Cleveland Ohio is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, because it’s the home of the radio announcer who first coined the term rock and roll. “But Amazon sales data suggests that the Rock capital is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” reads the press release. In fact, when it comes to purchasing music, Amazon’s sales data doesn’t even put Cleveland in the top 20! There may be a lot of people in Cleveland, but the ratio of purchases to people just isn’t as high as Pittsburgh — or even Cincinnati, which appears at #6 on the list.
But it’s interesting to note that even all those rock music purchases still didn’t make Pittsburgh the #1 most-musical city in all of America. That honor went to Miami Florida, which actually holds the #1 spot for the most heavy metal purchases per person — and also the #1 spot for the most dance purchases and Latin music purchases. In fact, Miami even has the highest rate of purchasing music for children. It must’ve been fun to be working at Amazon, and identifying the top musical cities — and then trying to guess if there was a pattern!
Because the #3 most-musical city is also in Florida, according to Amazon — the city of Orlando. Amazon points out that it’s the city that gave the world the Backstreet Boys (as well as ‘N Sync), and that per capita, it’s the #1 city in America for purchasing pop music. And further down, Amazon’s press release announces that “the most Country-loving city is the Tennessee River town of Knoxville, Tennessee.” Interestingly, that only earns Knoxville the #13 spot on the overall list — with the #4 spot going instead to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Coming in one notch above Knoxville was another southern town — Columbia, South Carolina, which had the 12th-most music purchases (per capita) of any city in America. But they aso had the distinction of being #1 for their purchases of rap music R&B music, and Christian music.
Hometown to artists like Alexis Jordan and Angie Stone, Columbia, SC topped not one, but three genre lists, including R&B, Rap and Christian. Columbia is the hometown of artists like Alexis Jordan and Angie Stone, Amazon points out — and it’s also identifies a few cities that are living up to their reputation. Amazon’s hip hometown of Seattle Washington had the most purchases per capita for indie rock music — and came in at #7 on the list. And Cambridge Massachusetts — home to Harvard University — bought more classical music from Amazon per capita than any other city in America. (While Berkeley California was their #1 city for jazz purchases.)
Amazon is still one of the biggest sellers of good old-fashioned music CDs — but they’re also helping transition the world to downloading songs and albums digitally. Now when I buy a song to listen to on my Kindle, there isn’t any physical CD that goes with it. In fact, one of my biggest delights with the Kindle is the way it can make music feel new again — because I’m listening to it in new ways, in new places, and at new times. So when compiling their list, Amazon made a point of counting not just CD sales, but also digital downloads of songs and albums — and even purchases of old vinyl records!
The music is still wonderful — and whether we notice it or not, Amazon is quietly becoming part of the way we listen to it. Today I was remembering the day when Michael Jackson died. He’d been such a huge star when I was younger, and I’d wondered if anyone else was thinking about all those albums from the late 1970s and early 1980s. And then I’d noticed in Amazon’s music section that their #1 best-selling album was Michael Jackson’s Thriller — and their #2 best-selling album was Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall..
Music really is an experience that we share together. And whether we notice it or not, there are times when our new neighborhood record store is Amazon.
August 24th, 2013
Everyone I know loves Elmore Leonard’s books. He wrote wonderful crime stories that were full of lively characters — and many of his novels were adapted into some very popular movies. (Like Get Shorty, Mr. Majestyk, Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma, and even Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.) On Tuesday, his agent announced to the world that Elmore Leonard had finally passed away at the age of 87. But fortunately, you can still read a lot of his best novels on your Kindle!
In fact, four of Leonard’s novels are actually available for less than $4.00 in the Kindle Store. (The Bounty Hunters, The Law at Randado, Forty Lashes Less One, and Escape from Five Shadows.) Nine more books have been priced between five and six dollars — including Out of Sight (which you may remember as the 1998 movie starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez). Four more novels are available in the six-dollar range, and there’s even a three-novel collection that you can purchase for just $9.99 — the “Elmore Leonard Classic 3-Book Collection,” which bundles together Get Shorty, Tishomingo Blues, and Killshot.
In fact, every Leonard novel in the Kindle Store is currently priced at less than $11.00. I have to admit that I’m especially intrigued by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (which Amazon describes as ” the perfect writer’s – and reader’s – gift.”) And Be Cool — the sequel to Get Shorty — is priced at just $9.78. For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by Elmore Leonard, just point your web browser to:
On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a fascinating article describing just how much fun the author had when he was writing his book. “He thinks of, say, ‘two guys in a room, talking,’ usually about some criminal endeavor, and lets them ‘audition’ for leading roles. He shapes them by intense research – i n 1978, he hung out with the Detroit police’s homicide squad, an experience that shaped the rest of his writing – and then lets them wander deeper into trouble.
“If any passage sounds like ‘writing,’ he rewrites it. This nets two to four pages a day. The next morning, he’ll read over those pages and ‘add cigarettes and drinks and things like that’ and press forward…”
One of my favorite books by the author — which had one of his most intriguing titles — was When the Women Come Out to Dance. Published in 2002, it was a collection of nine different stories, each one about a female character who confronts the author’s trademark mix of challenging plot twists and some very untrustworthy people, according to the book’s review at Amazon. “In this collection of new and recently published short fiction, Leonard demonstrates the superb characterizations, dead-on dialogue, vivid atmosphere, and driving plotting that have made him a household name.” But I like how their review acknowledged that Elmore Leonard always seemed to have a real sympathy for every character — even the ones who aren’t helping the detective solve his case. “Once more this master of crime illustrates that the line between the law and the lawbreakers is not as firm as we might think.” (It’s available as a Kindle ebook for just $8.99).
Ironically, I used to always get Elmore Leonard mixed up with James Ellroy — since both men wrote crime stories. Confusing things even further, on Saturday — and Saturday only — Amazon’s offering a discount on James Ellroy’s first novel. (Brown’s Requiem has been reduced in price to just $1.99.) “In honor of the two year anniversary of Kindle Daily Deals, more than 65 of our most popular titles are $2.99 or less,” Amazon explained on their special daily deal web page.
I guess it just goes to show you that there’s a lot of great authors in the world — and a lot of wonderful ebooks waiting in the Kindle Store.
August 22nd, 2013
Amazon’s still offering big discounts on the Kindle editions of books by Kurt Vonnegut. But I’d also like to share one of my personal favorite stories about the famous author — and a precious experience from a visit to Los Angeles. The Paley Center for Media preserves recordings of old and rare programs in a museum in Beverly Hills. So in 2006, I paid them a visit to watch the only television broadcast whose script was actually co-authored by Kurt Vonnegut himself!
It was an adaptation of a story which Vonnegut would later publish in “Welcome to the Monkey House,” though in 1953 the only place it published was the Ladies Home Journal. Five years later, Vonnegut’s sister died, within a few days of her husband, and as he adopted their children, Vonnegut wondered — at the age of 36 — whether he should give up writing altogether. But somehow in that same dark year, his name ended up on the teleplay of a very dramatic episode of G.E. Theatre.
It was hosted by Ronald Reagan, and starred a young Sammy Davis Jr. in the story of a black soldier whose troop passes by a German orphanage shortly after World War II. (One online review calls it “one of the great moments in television history,” since it was one of the first starring roles ever for a black actor on TV.) A black boy in the orphanage mistakes the lonely soldier for his father, and “Private Spider Johnson” soon has to make a very difficult choice. Reportedly even the production crew cried during the broadcast’s final scene, when the solider collapsed to his knees, sobbing.
It’s never been released as a DVD, but I watched on a viewing station at the museum. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the story of the orphans left behind by the war. (“Had the children not been kept there…they might have wandered off the edges of the earth,” Vonnegut wrote, “searching for parents who had long ago stopped searching for them.”) The story’s title is D.P., which stands for “Displaced Persons” — the technical military term for the desperate children. And it’s because of this story that my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book has always been “Welcome to the Monkey House”.
Earlier this month, Amazon had discounted the Kindle edition of this 354-page collection of Vonnegut’s short stories to just $8.99. (For a shortcut to all of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by Kurt Vonnegut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/KurtVonnegutEbooks ) I’ve met so many people who tell me that Kurt Vonnegut is one of their favorite authors, so it’s nice to be able to remind them that he’s now available on the Kindle. Here’s a list of just some of Kurt Vonnegut’s books which are now available in Kindle editions!
Breakfast of Champions
The Sirens of Titan
Welcome to the Monkey House
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Fates Worse Than Death
Bagombo Snuff Box
August 19th, 2013
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Here’s the ultimate testimonial. This year I’ve started over 100 ebooks on my Kindle — but this is the only that I’ve actually finished! I kept turning the pages on this one to see what was going to happen next, and I felt invested in the detective and his hunt for answers. “The police procedure has a feel of authenticity,” wrote The Weekly Standard, “with extensive detail of weaponry and forensics, and the course of the investigation bears some of the messiness of real life.” They conclude that the author of the series, J. Mark Bertrand, ” is a major crime-fiction talent — one of the best police procedural writers I’ve come upon in years.”
The author spent some time learning his craft, and actually actually earned a master’s degree in creative writing before publishing Back on Murder. (Reading the book, I’d started to wonder if he’d actually worked as a police detective, because he seems to understand that world so well!) The book was first released in 2010, and it’s still Amazon’s #1 best-selling “police procedural” in their Mystery section. One Amazon customer even wrote that “This is the kind of book the Kindle was made for. The built in dictionary allowed me to quickly understand terms…and the note/bookmark feature allowed me to note/review my speculations on plots and twists!”
So if the author isn’t a former police detective, then who is he? I had to solve that mystery, so I tracked down the author’s personal web site. It turns out that he did in fact grew up at least close to Texas, in what he describes as Louisiana’s “humid swampland [where] he soaked up some atmosphere.” And he did eventually live in Houston, though his wife ultimately insisted that they move to South Dakota “after one hurricane too many.” So his police procedural came partly from his own memories of Houston…
The author describes himself as “a Southern ex-pat living far away…”, and part of what makes this book so compelling is there’s more at stake than simply solving the crime. The detective has been moved out of the police department’s murder investigation unit, and he’s got one chance to prove that he deserves another chance to rejoin their team. But as a reader, I was equally fascinated by just the vivid glimpses of the day-to-day life of a police detective — the behind-the-scenes banter, the hopes and the doubts, the support and the rivalries. It kept me turning pages, just to spend more time in that world, and to learn how it all came out!
It’s intriguing to see that there’s an audiobook version for just $2.99 — and that the narrator tries to change his voice for each character to give them a distinct personality. At least a few of the characters return throughout the series, according to reviews I’ve read. (The other two books in the trilogy are Pattern of Wounds and Nothing to Hide.) Some of the murder-scene details are a bit gritty, but I thought they just helped to give the story an extra kick. And in the end, I’d say this book earned the highest compliment that you can give to a mystery novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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