August 7th, 2014
It’s finally happened. Amazon’s Kindle has become the target of a fake video news report from The Onion! “This week Amazon unveiled The Kindle Flare — the latest model of their popular e-reader,” reports a (fake) newscaster from the Onion News Network.
“The improved device has the ability to loudly and repeatedly announce the title of the book you’re reading so everyone knows how smart you are…”
You can watch the whole video on the Onion’s web site. (For a shortcut, just point your browser to tinyurl.com/KindleFlare — or watch the embedded version… )
I especially liked how their story begins with a flashy “Tech Trends” logo — making it seem like a real news story. And they’ve even fabricated a supposed commercial which will advertise the new Amazon device.
“The all new kindle flare — louder than a book cover…”
Like most Onion stories, it’s their straight-faced delivery of the “Kindle Flare” story which makes their parody so funny — including all of its realistic little details. (“Custom Dolby Audio Shouting…”) Their report even lists out some of the supposed advantages of the new Amazon Kindle Flare.
- Speaker audible to everyone within 30 feet
- Shield mode shouts ‘Faulkner’ when you play Candy Crush
- 8-week battery life for long-lasting gloating
- 15 different confident tones of voice
- Pronounces French books with a French accent
What makes this even more interesting is you really can subscribe to The Onion on your Kindle. Every week they’ll deliver the newest edition straight to your Kindle — whether it’s a reader, a tablet, or even a Kindle app. And the subscription also includes free delivery of the “AV Club” — another Onion publication which explores “the best and worst of film, television, music, books and games.”
Interestingly, The Onion has already become Amazon’s #7 best-selling newspaper for the United States. (No joke!) The New York Times is #1, with The Wall Street Journal close behind, and then The Washington Post, USA Today, The Financial Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle. But #7 is “America’s Finest News Source” — The Onion.
As with all satire, there’s a grain of truth in The Onion’s “Kindle Flare” story. The Onion also reports that Apple has released a new version of the iPad — which whispers, over and over again, “I have an iPad.” And The Onion even imagined one more headline for one of Amazon’s competitors.
“Barnes and Noble’s Nook Now Breathlessly Thanks Owners for Buying a Nook…”
August 1st, 2014
Over 30 high-quality Android apps are now free at Amazon! It’s to welcome customers to Amazon’s new Fire Phone — but the apps work on any Android device. That means they’re available for Kindle Fire tablets, but also for Android smartphone and tablets (when purchased through the Amazon Appstore).
“Over $100 in Essential Apps,” reads the banner on the front page of Amazon today — but with an important disclaimer. “Free Thursday and Friday Only.” Fortunately, they’re all on display at Amazon’s web page. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting apps.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
Yes, Sega of America is giving away a free Sonic the Hedgehog game promising “the ultimate party racing showdown.” There’s 16 different race courses to choose from — and 13 different Sega characters — plus lots of other fun ways to play. (“Rev up your skills with 25 missions then outrun the competition in four Grand Prix Cups or take on other racers in dueling Battle Mode!”)
It’s one of the most popular new board games of the last ten years — and in 2012 they finally created a version for Android devices. The app version was actually named “Mobile Game of the Year” by one gaming site, and it’s actually been one of my favorite board games since 2005. (“Create a landscape by placing tiles with roads, cities, fields, and cloisters…” explains the game’s web page — and now you can even compete against the game’s built-in opponent!)
Send any web page to your Android phone, where it’s waiting for you on this handy app. It works a lot like Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” feature — except now you don’t even have to have a Kindle! It’s already racked up millions of users, according to the app’s web page at Wikipedia. Best of all, it strips away most of the ads and other extraneous “layout” elements from the web pages, so you end up getting the parts that you want — without having to download all the other parts that you don’t!
I have a friend who swears by this app. It offers more than 40 sounds (on a perpetual loop) designed to block out noise to help you sleep — or at least, to relax. You can even mix the sounds together to create a new “ambience”, according to the app’s web page, and there’s also a special feature that lets you add an “alarm” effect, where the volume gradually increases to wake-me-up levels at whatever time you choose. The app could even help mask tinnitus, according to its page, along with soothing migraine headaches, and even helping to pacify crying babies — which ends with one more tantalizing promise. “Find out why the world is sleeping better with White Noise!”
Remember, for a shortcut to the 30 free apps, point your browser to
July 29th, 2014
It’s like something from a science fiction story: Amazon’s just announced a web page offering real “3-D printing”. I wasn’t even sure what that meant — but it’s a revolutionary new way to buy things that haven’t even been created yet…and a real glimpse into the future.
Here’s a four-sentence summary of the way the process works. We live in a world where technology now makes it possible to print more than just ink on a piece of paper. Technology now can also print out substances, using a computer-controlled machine, following a very precise pattern. The pattern is specified by the user, allowing lots of ways to customize a product before it’s even been built. It’s only when you hit the “print” button that your desired product springs into existence!
But the idea could change our world, transforming the way that everything gets made — and then sold. (“Shop the Future!” reads the slogan on the front page of Amazon’s store.) Amazon’s announcement notes that 3-D printing allows vendors to sell “a potentially infinite number of products” — each one customized by the purchaser — and all at very reasonable prices. Mixee Labs (one of Amazon’s partners) calls this “the app store for the physical world”, since you’re not buying digital products, but things! And you can choose the material for your purchase before it’s even been produced, as well as its color, its size, whatever text or image you want to include…
Print your initials on steel cuff links! Make a dog tag personalized with the name of your own dog! “Customization gives customers the power to remix their world,” explains the co-founder of Mixee Labs, “and we want to change the way people shop online.” But it’s gone from being a theoretical concept to something you can utilize today.
For example, imagine buying a bobblehead that’s been customized so it looks like you! You can choose the bobblehead’s eye color, hair color, and hairstyle, and even add eyeglasses. (Even the spring inside the bobblehead is generated by the printer, and it’s only when the bobblehead is produced.) “Turn yourself, friends, family, and coworkers into bobble heads,” reads the product’s description on Amazon — which suggests it as the ultimate personalized gift.
“The age of 3D printing is just beginning and you can experience it first hand!” reads another Amazon web page. It’s offering an iPhone case with a pattern of plastic that’s described as “rivulets of blood.” Besides red, it’s also available in black, blue, and white… But like any fashion accessory, part of the thrill is the rarity of this accessory. It’s not mass produced; there are only as many in existence as there are customers who ordered them. And you’ll always know that they were built from scratch — automatically! — using a 3-D printer….
Amazon’s 3-D Print Store offers more than 200 products to choose from. But none of them exist — yet — until you actually click the yellow “Add to Cart” button. Then behind the scenes, Amazon and their partners will go to work assembling your chosen substance, molecule by molecule, into the appropriate pattern. It could change everything — the way all products are created and then sold — and it’s just started happening at Amazon.
July 25th, 2014
If this were Gotham City, I’d suspect it’s a crime. But there’s no strings attached — Amazon’s giving away a free Kindle edition of a new Batman comic book. It’s to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman – and it’s just one of several free Kindle comic books!
The comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. (The offer’s good through August 3rd — so a week from Sunday.) It’s a newly-launched series that begins with a showdown between Commissioner Gordon and a new supervillain. But elsewhere in Amazon’s Kindle Store, there’s already a big selection of more free comic books…
Also available is for free is the very first Batman comic book ever. It’s issue #27 of Detective Comic — first published in 1939! And of course, it’s also the first appearance of Bruce Wayne, and the original Commissioner Gordon.
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:
If you’re not interested in Batman, one of the other free comic books is The Powerpuff Girls. Yes, the pre-school superhero characters from the famous Cartoon Network show finally have their own comic book. Issue #1 brings you the new adventures of Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup — and all their friends in the city of Townsville. (“What fiendish secret is Mojo Jojo hiding?” asks the book’s description at Amazon…)
The entire comic book industry celebrates “Free Comic Book Day” in May, and Amazon’s still giving away free Kindle editions of some of the titles. There’s “The New 52: Futures End,” (a free comic book day “Special Edition.”) And if you’re looking for more Batman titles, there’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance.
I wonder if it will still be free 75 years from now — on Batman’s 150th anniversary?
the bottom of Amazon’s comic page:
July 22nd, 2014
There’s a fun new section on Amazon where they’re touting exciting new and interesting Kindle ebooks — called Books with Buzz! “Discover books that have created buzz, excitement, anticipation…” teases a paragraph at the bottom of the page, “and have garnered great customer and critical reviews alike!”
For example, when I visited the page, I was stunned to discover that there’s a new book called The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. A journalist moved to a small Southern town that’s the home of the aging, reclusive author. “Underneath the plain, clear language of The Mockingbird Next Door is an enchanting, atmospheric portrait of two sisters and the southern town they inhabit…” reads the book’s description at Amazon. “The book is compelling and charming,” writes Amazon editor Chris Schluep, “and it brings Harper Lee and her world, both past and present, to full life.”
And there’s a huge variety of interesting titles on the “Books with Buzz” page, as though Amazon’s really trying to find something for everybody. “From mysteries and literary novels to biographies and more, you’ll find highlights of recent and upcoming books that you’ll want to dive into,” they explain. “Our 2013 Books with Buzz titles include Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Returned by Jason Mott (now an ABC series Resurrection), The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck, and a Johnny Carson biography by Henry Bushkin.” (Yes, that was the lawyer that Carson used to mockingly refer to as “bombastic Bushkin”. ) But what I like most is that some of Amazon’s “books with buzz” are new — while others are exciting books that I somehow missed!
It’s also nice that their selection isn’t overwhelming huge, like some of Amazon’s ebook sale pages. If I’m reading this right, there’s just 11 special books that Amazon’s desginated as “books with buzz.” “In 2014 so far, the Books with Buzz selections include The Painter by Peter Heller, Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch, and the upcoming Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Some of them are thrillers and some of them are poignant and heart-warming novels. But they all seem different than your typical Kindle ebook – -because Amazon’s selected them for this special honor — and it’s a really fun way to browse for new things to read!
For a shortcut to Amazon’s Books With Buzz page, point your browser to
July 18th, 2014
Amazon’s just announced a surprising new deal! Now you can subscribe to their “all you can read” service for just $9.99 a month! This lets you read any ebook from their special selection of more than 600,000 titles.
And the service isn’t limited to just Kindle ebooks. Amazon’s also including thousands of audiobooks as part of the package. “With Kindle Unlimited, you won’t have to think twice before you try a new author or genre,” points out an Amazon Kindle executive. “You can just start reading and listening!”
And Amazon also lets you “sync” your audiobooks with your ebooks, so you can switch over to a hands-free/listening mode whenever you need to — and then switch back to continue reading at that new location in your ebook! (Amazon calls this “allowing the story to continue even when your eyes are busy.”) It’s a feature that’s been enabled on thousands of the ebooks available in their “Unlimited” subscription service. Just look for this “Whispersync for Voice” logo on the book’s page at Amazon.
There’s even a free 30-day trial, so you can feel what it’s like to have all of these ebooks available without having to worry about price. (Plus a free three-month subscription for every single audiobook available at Audible.com). And yes, this subscription service also includes Amazon’s “Kindle Singles”, so you can also read the shorter new works by authors like Stephen King. Amazon’s even got some exclusive ebooks — titles which haven’t even been released yet, but which are available a month early to Kindle customers…
It’s interesting to speculate about why Amazon’s offering a subscription service. But maybe it’s because people really were shopping around for the cheapest titles. It’s hard for Amazon to make any money if people keep choosing their ebooks from Amazon’s “free” section. With this new program, Amazon will at least get $120 a year from every subscriber.
And Kindle owners will get to read as many ebooks as they want!
July 16th, 2014
It’s one of my favorite things about owning a Kindle. “Each month we unveil a new collection of Kindle books for $3.99 or less,” Amazon explains on a special web page. It always feels like a special event, and if I don’t check out the new selection, I always feels like I’m missing something!
Here’s some of the most interesting titles…
Little Bee by Chris Cleave ($1.99)
It’s impossible not to be intrigued by this novel’s description at Amazon. (“The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller…”) But then they suddenly turn coy, adding “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it… It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.
“And it’s what happens afterward that is most important…”
Murder in the Ball Park (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Robert Goldsborough ($1.99)
It’s a brand new mystery starring the famous “armchair detective,” Nero Wolfe — and there’s a fascinating story behind this story. The wealthy New York City detective first appeared in a novel in 1934, according to Wikipedia, and continued delighting mystery readers for the next 40 years. And then a new author took over the series in 1986 — publishing another 11 novels over the next 28 years that continued the detective’s investigations. Amazingly, the most recent Nero Wolfe story was published in 2014, and it looks like an exciting case. “Wolfe earns a big league call-up after a senator gets taken out at the ball game,” reads the mystery’s description at Amazon. (And in an ironic touch, the story opens with a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers versus the New York Giants — two teams which have long since left Wolfe’s beloved New York City for California!)
A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill ($1.99)
It’s a true and heart-warming story about a “struggling college student and the Labrador with ‘a coat like sunshine’,” according to the book’s description at Amazon, “and a tail that never stopped wagging…” The student has cerebral palsy, but when she’s matched up with a service dog, “Together, they transformed a challenge into a triumph” — and also inspired everybody that they met. I love a good dog book, and this one has already become Amazon’s #1 best-seller in their category “Animal Care and Pet Essays”. Plus, it’s also drawing rave reviews from Booklist, which call it “a touching memoir”, and “a sweet story about a woman and her dog.”
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine ($1.99)
Before it was made into an Anne Hathaway movie, this charming young adult novel won a prestigious Newbery honor back in 1998. It’s 240-page twist on the Cinderella story, according to the book’s description at Amazon. (“Instead of a demure heroine patiently awaiting a prince who will carry her off, this Ella is a feisty ball of fire with the courage and ambition to take matters into her own hands…”) But there’s one catch: an enchantment forces her to obey any orders that are given to her. It’s quite a premise, and at least one satisfied Amazon customer described it as “the best book I’ve ever read in my entire life.”
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindle ebooks,
point your browser to:
July 11th, 2014
It’s a summer special that’s hard to resist! Amazon’s offering big discounts on their Kindle Fire tablets — including their newest high-definition Kindle Fire HDX. It’s now possible to save up to $50 on a new Kindle Fire tablet. And Amazon’s also offering discounts on accessories for your Kindle.
For example, for just $119 you can purchase a Kindle Fire HD — a $20 savings over its usual price of $139. That’s for the 8-gigabyte version, but if you’d like more storage space, Amazon’s also discounting the 16-gigabyte Kindle Fire HD, to just $129. (Normally it retails for $40 more — $169!) They’re described on Amazon’s web page as “Our most affordable Kindle Fire, now in high-definition…”
But of course, Amazon released an even better tablet last year called the Kindle Fire HDX — and they’re also on sale! Right now you can get a Kindle Fire HDX for just $199. That’s a $30 savings — and Amazon will give you the same discount if you purchase a tablet with extra storage space. The cheapest model comes with 16 gigabytes of storage, but for an extra $40 you can upgrade that to the 32-gigabyte version. And even the 64-gigabyte Kindle Fire HDX now costs just $259 — a $50 discount over its usual retail price of $309!
Amazon’s touting the special as a “Back to School” deal (calling their tablets “the perfect gift for students.”) But there’s also some other gift opportunities. If you look carefully at each Kindle’s page, you’ll notice that Amazon’s offering discounted accessories as the right side of the page. You can save up to $15 on a spiffy new case for your Kindle tablet. (My last Kindle had a leather case, and while reading it was really nice to feel that soft leather-y touch.) The joke’s on Amazon, because this September I have absolutely no plans of going back to school whatsoever.
But I’m definitely going to take advantage of this sale!
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s discounted Kindles,
point your browser to
July 8th, 2014
It was a big day in Seattle when the CEO of Amazon stepped forward and announced that in addition to the Kindle, they’d now be producing a smartphone. And he’d wanted to build the excitement — creating a buzz — on the day the new Fire Phone was finally unveiled. So the word went out that some carefully-selected customers of Amazon would be invited to the event. Over 60,000 people applied for an invitation — and Amazon chose 300 of them!
Now you can watch the enthusiastic customers in their own home-made videos, which they’d submitted to Amazon to score their invitation. Amazon included three of them at the very beginning of their Fire Phone event — right before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage!
“We’ve got folks from the media, we have developers, and especially exciting for me, we have Amazon customers,” Bezos tells the crowd. (Adding “Give yourself a big round…”) But it was a very smart move, because it guaranteed that when the new product was announced, there would be a big and enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. “I know whatever it is that you’re planning is going to be amazing,” one Amazon customer promised in their introductory video, “and I want to be there in person so I can brag to everyone that I was there, day one, and saw this thing in person!”
That was Adam from Florida, who held up his own Kindle…and then his Kindle Fire. But the videos also drove home an important point: that Amazon was focused on customers, and that real people use the devices that Amazon’s been creating. “I know it’s going to be well thought out,” said another Amazon customer named Jason. “I know it’s going to be well-designed, and most importantly, I know it’s going to put me, the customer first!”
Of course, Amazon’s CEO Bezos knew that he’d be competing with the iPhone now — and with all of the legendary product introductions that Steve Jobs used to make. And the problem is these corporate presentations can seem dry, technical, and ultimately very impersonal. So I have to applaud Amazon for trying to change the tone, and make their event feel more spontaneous, like a gathering of excited people.
“I was born in Seattle,” Jason remembered in his video. “I’ve been here all my life, and it’s been a lot of fun watching Amazon kind of grow and kind of take the world by storm. And I would love nothing more to go to this unveiling…”
“I know the product is going to be awesome!”
July 4th, 2014
Every summer I have a special Kindle tradition. On the fourth of July, I try to read ebooks written by some of America’s greatest authors. It’s a way to try to appreciate the true meaning of our “Independence Day” holiday. And last year I’d discovered some of my all-time favorite American authors now have ebooks available in the Kindle Store — for free!
But first, I’d like to tell you about my special 4th of July…
There’s always a parade down the streets of our town, and last year a friend invited me to ride on his float. So instead of watching the 4th of July parade, I was in the 4th of July parade! (What a rush! The whole town seemed to be smiling and waving at us as we rode by, and everywhere on that hot Thursday afternoon, you saw red, white, and blue.) I was feeling a strange euphoria when I finally got home. And that’s when I started reading on my Kindle…
There’s a book called the U.S. A. Trilogy that reminded me of my favorite author, John Dos Passos. He used a stream-of-consciousness technique to mix together newspaper headlines and lyrics of popular songs with longer descriptions of his characters and the challenges they faced in every day life. The book flashes to the lives of his characters before (and after) World War I, though unfortunately, it’s not available as a Kindle ebook. But that afternoon I discovered something even better in Amazon’s Kindle Store: free editions for each of the author’s first four novels!
“The Early Works of John Dos Passos” is available in the Kindle Store as a 514-page collection of those four novels for just $1.99. Amazon named the collection one of their Best Books of 2013 (So Far), and it’s from a publisher called Halcyon Classics. But there’s also a free edition available for each one of the four books in the collection! Dos Passos was inspired partly by his own experiences in World War I, and he writes vivid and intimate stories for the characters in all four of his early novels.
One Man’s Initiation – 1917
Rosinante to the Road Again
A Pushcart at the Curb
For $1.99, you can even purchase the professionally-narrated audiobook version for each of these ebooks (except A Pushcart to the Curb.) But because of the Kindle, I was also able to enjoy reading reviews of these American classics from new readers who’d recently discovered them on Amazon.com. One reviewer argued that Three Soldiers may be set during the war, but it’s more about one man’s struggle to retain his individuality. (Wikipedia points out that at least one of the soldiers has a military career which is virtually identical to that of John Dos Passos!) And another reader said these four earlier novels really capture the author’s tremendous growth. “It was refreshing to see through this collection how he came to eventually writing the great American classic USA Trilogy and developed a modern style, more complex and textured than any of the other members of the lost generation with the possible exception of James Joyce….”
Of course, I read some other interesting books as part of my all-American afternoon. I flipped through a wonderful postcard-sized print book called Traveling Route 66, which features photographs of highway scenes you might see in the 1950s, from neon signs to various roadside attractions. That book quoted a poem by Walt Whitman called “Song of the Open Road”, which led me to look a free online copy of the complete poem on my Kindle. The poem is also available as a Kindle ebook for 99 cents.
But I couldn’t let the day end without reading at least a few lines of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. What’s forgotten is that poem is part of a larger work – a kind of American version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where six different characters each take a turn reciting a poem on a topic that’s dear to their heart. (It’s also available as a free Kindle ebook.) Tales of a Wayside Inn was written in 1862, during the American Civil War, when poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was struggling with his wife’s death and the injuries of his son, who was serving in the Union army. So in the longer poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is referred to as “The Landlord’s Tale”, and after its conclusion, there’s a few more poignant lines that always remind me that holidays are often just a way of remembering, in your own way, all of those who came before you.
The Landlord ended thus his tale,
Then rising took down from its nail
The sword that hung there, dim with dust,
And cleaving to its sheath with rust,
And said, “This sword was in the fight.”
July 1st, 2014
It’s hard to believe, because Amazon’s already doing so many things which no company has ever done. But I took a good look at the details about their newly announced “Fire Phone”, and discovered even more new features to be excited about…
Firefly can Provide Real-Time Trivia For Scenes in a Movie
Amazon’s press release promises something amazing. They’ve watched 245,000 different movies and TV show episodes, and they’re also monitoring 160 different television channels in real-time. And it really works. In a test, a reviewer at Mashable discovered that it didn’t just identify what movie they were watching — it recognized a specific scene, and then acted on that information. Firefly actually reached into the Internet Movie Database, which is somehow integrated now with Amazon’s X-Ray service. The end result is that Firefly can actually share trivia with you about a specific scene in a movie — for example, which actors appear only in this scene.
And according to Amazon’s press release, it can also provide a quick synopsis of the plot — which would be really handle if you’re channel surfing, and landed on the second half of a movie. It can even add TV shows and movies to your watch list — so you can purchase them (from Amazon) and then start watching from the beginning!
Firefly Can Name That Tune
There used to be a game show called “Name That Tune” — but Amazon found a way to cheat. They’ve apparently also analyzed every second of every single popular song, and within a few seconds can match the sound of whatever you’re listening to to its title and artist in their database. (Making it something you can buy from Amazon.)
And you can also even buy concert tickets! When you’re listening to a song, Amazon not only identifies its original artist, but can also look up that performer’s touring schedule, and then offer you tickets to their next local appearance! And it doesn’t end there.
And 70 Million Bar Codes
According to Mashable, Firefly has other superpowers, too. “Thanks to a partnership with My Fitness Pal, I discovered that a box of Nilla Wafers has 120 calories in a serving-size of eight cookies.” That’s because Firefly can actually scan the bar codes on the side of most products you’d buy at a supermarket — and then follow-up with real information that is actually useful and relevant. How many products can Amazon identify? 70 million — so far. That includes DVDs (and music CDs), plus books and video games. But it also includes “household items” (like Nilla Wafers).
And of course, once it’s identified a product, your Fire Phone can also give you a chance to purchase a product… on Amazon!
More Firefly Tricks
If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that we shouldn’t underestimate the power of Firefly. If it sees a phone number on a sign, it can bring up your phone to call it. If it sees an e-mail address, it can bring up your mail client to send them a message. If it sees a URL, it can pull up that web page instantly in your browser. And of course, it can also recognized QR codes.
But in the future, Amazon’s Firefly service could get even more amazing. Within the next 6 months, they’re planning to add an upgrade which lets it identify paintings. And by the end of the year, Amazon expects their Firefly service will be able to translate foreign language phrases into English. It will even recognize a bottle of wine by the information on its label!
I’ve been wondering why Amazon chosen the name Firefly, but they seem to be implying there’s an almost magical glow to the information it provides. Their official slogan for Firefly is “Illuminate Your World,” and it looks like they’ve found the holy grail for an online shopping site.
Everything that you love can now make a direct connection to Amazon.
For a shortcut to Amazon’s new smartphone, point your browser to
June 26th, 2014
Every month Amazon discounts dozens of Kindle ebooks — to just $3.99 or less! And June is almost over, making this the last week to buy the ebooks at their discounted price. It’s my favorite time to browse for ebooks, and not just because there’s usually a great selection. You can browse all these discounts over the weekend, and then visit the same page on Tuesday (July 1st) to see a whole new selection of more discounted Kindle ebooks!
Here’s some of this month’s most interesting titles…
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut ($1.99)
It’s one of Kurt Vonnegut’s last novel — and with one of his wildest plots. There’s a cluster of characters shipwrecked on an island who suddenly become the only survivors of a catastrophic epidemic — and the novel looks at the world which results…one million years later! One reviewer called it “the humorous, ironic and sometimes carping decline of the human race”, and at least one of Amazon’s customers described it as one of his favorite Vonnegut novels, applauding its grandiose plot and its sense of humor — concluding “in the end Galapagos is interesting, funny, unconventional, and just a great read.”
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski ($1.99)
It’s the second-to-last novel ever written by Charles Bukowski. Just five years before his death at age 73, Bukowski created this 250-page portrait of one of the most extreme cultures of all — Hollywood! After living a life of drunkenness combined with some great and empathetic writing, Bukowski had been commissioned to write a screenplay about his own life in 1984. That resulted in the movie Barfly, but Bukowski wasn’t through with Hollywood yet. “In this hilarious roman a clef, Bukowski draws on his experiences while writing the script…” explains the book’s description at Amazon, adding that the book’s main character is also penning a screenplay about his early life, “as a barfly and brawler, before he became a famous author.” And you’ll recognize many real-life actors, directors, and other famous personalities — because the characters in this book are drawn straight from real life!
The Return of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger ($1.99)
“Jack Crabb is now 112 years old,” begins the book’s description at Amazon, “and he isn’t done spinning yarns.” Thomas Berger’s original novel explored the life of an 111-year-old man who claimed (among other things) to be the only survivor of Custer’s Last Stand. His fantastic stories about real life in the American west inspired a 1970 movie. But nearly 30 years later, in 1999, 75-year-old Thomas Berger resurrected his own character to deliver even more tall tales. “Crabb claims to have witnessed most of the great historical events of the western frontier,” reads the book’s description at Amazon, “hiding behind a wagon after a drunken Doc Holliday provokes the shootout at the OK Corral; joining Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley on tour with their international Wild West show; even taking tea with Queen Victoria when she came out of seclusion after a quarter century!” Like the movie, the novel promises to be funny, but according to Amazon, there’s another layer to this historical fantasmagoria, which they ultimately describe as “a sidesplitting novel of surprising emotional depth.”
And the ebook edition includes a special new introduction by the now-89-year-old author!
A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre ($1.99)
John le Carre has been writing spy novels for more than 50 years. But in 2008, at the age of 76, he reached back to his own memories of working as a British spy in Germany. Or did he? The world’s changed a lot since the 1950s, and in le Carre’s novel (also set in Germany), the intrigue surrounds a mysterious young Russian smuggled into Germany, who may or may not be a terrorist. There’s also a strong female attorney defending him against deportation, and according to Amazon, le Carre’s novel quickly becomes “Thrilling, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go.” They called the novel “fiercely compelling”, but more than that, describe its overall effect as “a work of deep humanity and uncommon relevance to our times…”
point your browser to:
June 22nd, 2014
Amazon surprised everyone by announcing a new smart phone last week. “Fire is the only smartphone to put everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand,” read the front page of Amazon, in a special letter written by the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos. Of course, he touted all the obvious advantages of the Fire phone — apps, music, movies and TV shows, plus “exclusive features” like a 3-D interface and some cool new software tricks.
But here’s six of the Fire Phone’s biggest hidden surprises…
32 Gigabytes of Storage
Wait, what? It starts at 32 gigabytes of storage — that’s the minimum. And there’s also 64-gigabyte version. My last Android phone boasted that it could be upgraded “up to 32 gigabytes” — followed by the dreaded disclaimer in parentheses: not included. (I’d have to purchase an additional memory card — sold separately….)
And besides the on-device storage, Amazon’s Fire Phone is offering another even better alternative…
Unlimited Photo Storage in the Cloud
My current smartphone keeps running out of memory — I think every smartphone eventually hits a limit. You can try storing your photos in the cloud, but besides Google’s free storage service, even the iPhone has a 5-gigabyte limit (unless you’re willing to pay extra). But not Amazon’s Fire Phone. “Free, unlimited photo storage definitely sets Amazon apart from Dropbox, Apple’s iCloud and Microsoft’s OneDrive,” reports the technology blog Engadget.
Of course, there’s a reason that Amazon’s upping their specs and giving away cool features for free…customers.
“Users will pay for all the data they use through AT&T as well as being sucked into the two-year service contract through the carrier,” warned one technology blog. With their Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon offered a much cheaper alternative to the high-end tablets that were being produced by Apple. But Amazon’s smartphone costs the same as the other Android smartphones — not just for the intiail purchase, but also in its monthly servic chrages.
But Amazon did come up one more great interesting incentive…customers.
A Free Year of Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime normally costs you $100 — but it’s free for a year when you buy a Fire Phone. (And if you’re already a Prime member, Amazon will extend your current subscription by another 12 months.) And Prime doesn’t just mean you get free two-day shipping (plus a big discount on one-day shipping). Prime subscribers also get access to Amazon’s library of free digital movies and TV shows (which includes some great classic TV shows like the original Star Trek and The Twilight Zone). And there’s also over 500,000 books now in the “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”, which lets you borrow one popular ebook each month for free. This month Amazon also announced a new streaming music service which is free to all Prime customers.
A 3-D Interface — and a 2-D Interface
Repeat after me: “Dynamic Perspective” is optional. A site called Digital Trends ran a fascinating article called “5 things we’ve learned from people who have fondled the Fire Phone,” And it found lots of enthusiasm for Amazon’s new three-dimensional interface. In fact, I thought it was a little misleading to summarize it with the headline “Dynamic Perspective might get annoying.” Although I’ll admit that that was my first thought, too.
I mean, while it’s cool to see screensavers with real depth, do you really want to see the time of day in a shifting, three-dimensional perspective? But all my concerns vanished when I also read that if you don’t like it, you can turn it off. So it’s a feature — not a permanent gimmick standing between you and your icons!
Ah, and about those icons. On the Fire Phone, the e-mail icon doesn’t just sit there waiting for a tap before it checks up your inbox. It will actually gives you real-time information about what’s in your inbox, before you even tap. It’s similar to the “live tiles” innovation that Microsoft tried with Windows 8 (and their Windows Phone), and it’ll be available for lots of other icons that’ll appear on the home screen of the Fire Phone. For example, the web browser’s icon lets you go straight to recently-accessed web sites. And the app for USA Today shows you headlines — based on your own selections of the kind of headlines you’d prefer…
Check out Amazon’s new smartphone at this shortcut:
June 18th, 2014
Zombies attack… Archie and his pals in Riverdale? It’s a horror comic in the most unlikely of places, and it’s drawing rave reviews. And it’s also proof that there’s a vast variety of reading material available for the Kindle — including Kindle comic books. Right now, Amazon’s even discounting several of them to just 99 cents each.
By the way, Amazon’s really spruced up that comics page. Now you can display comics by a specific author, or from a specific publisher (like “D.C. Comics”). You can even narrow the display to comics from a specific release date — even “Coming Soon”, or “Last 90 days.” But there’s also links that let you view comics available for the Kindle from “the Golden Age (1938-55),” as well as the Silver Age (1959-1969), and the Bronze Age (1970-1983)…all the way up to the present-day. (Plus a link for recent comics which have won industry awards…)
Comic books are available for any touch-screen Kindle — as well as the Kindle reading apps for your smartphone or other tablet devices. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting titles…
Afterlife with Archie ($2.99 per issue)
It started as a joke — then turned horribly, horribly wrong. A comic book artist drew a special cover for the wholesome series “Life with Archie” — with zombies — as a tribute to the classic horror comics of the 1950s. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wanted to expand the idea, and created a four-issue series where real zombies are terrorizing the neighborhood of Riverdale – and taking over the brains of all of Archie’s loveable pals. “The first four issues sold out,” reports Wikipedia, noting that Fangoria magazine called it one of the “best horror comics…in a very long time,” while a reviewer at NPR actually called it “terrific,” “a masterpiece,” and “actually scary. And this March, the wild success of the series convinced Archie Comics to choose the author as their chief creative officer!
Harley Quinn comics (99 cents per issue)
Amazon’s discounting over 100 comic books for the Kindle — each one with one of D.C. Comics’ most fascinating characters. “For a limited time, pick up single issue comics featuring The Joker’s favorite gal, Harley Quinn for only $0.99 each,” Amazon announced this week. The strange villain-ess in the harlequin costume appeared in numerous comic series, including Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad, Gotham Girls, and of course, her own Harley Quinn series. She was named one of the sexiest women in comic books, according to her page on Wikipedia — even if she is in love with The Joker!
Calvin & Hobbes collections ($10.99 each)
It’s one of the greatest newspaper comic strips of all-time — and now it’s available on the Kindle! This November three collections of “Calvin & Hobbes” cartoons suddenly appeared in the graphic novels section of Amazon Kindle Store. These 250-page collections feature all the original strips by Bill Watterson — including his lavish, full-color Sunday strips. Watterson stunned the world this month by anonymously contributing artwork to the Pearls Before Swine comic strip after 20 years of retirement! But it just reminded me of how much I loved the original Calvin & Hobbes comic strip — and it’s nice to know that they’re now available on the Kindle.
Transformers: Regeneration One (99 cents per issue)
It’s another store-wide sale, this one featuring nearly two dozen comics about the Transformer robots. With a summer blockbuster about to hit theatres, it’s a good way for fans to bring the excitement home to their Kindle.
You’ll find words like “epic” in Amazon’s description of the plots — as well as “Cybertron,” “Autobot,” and of course, “Optimus Prime.” “For a limited time, pick up Transformers” Regeneration One single issue comics for only $0.99 each,” Amazon teases on the pages of their other Kindle comic books — adding two more special words of their own.
Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s comic page, point your browser to
June 12th, 2014
The founder of Amazon just posted a surprise announcement on the front page of the site. From now on, members of Amazon’s Prime shipping service can also enjoy free music! They’ll get unlimited access to over a million songs — with no commercials — and can even download songs to their phone or tablet for free!
There’s lots of familiar artists — from Bruce Springsteen and Madonna to Daft Punk, Bruno Mars, Blake Shelton, and The Lumineers — and Amazon promises there’s over 10,000 albums to choose from. Amazon promises their selection will grow — which is good, because right now it seems like some artists are represented more than others. Amazon’s “100 Popular Artists” page shows which albums will be available, and it definitely seems like some artists have more albums available than others.
40 Johnny Cash albums
16 Willie Nelson
13 Dave Matthews Band
12 Elvis Presley
11 Kidz Bob Kids
10 Billy Joel
9 Van Morisson
8 Ozzy Osbourne
8 John Denver
8 Talking Heads
But it’s still an impressive service, and Amazon’s doing everything they can to make it easy to use. “We wanted to remove the barriers between you and the music you love,” writes Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, listing out the barriers that are being removed — “cost” and “interruptions”. He also points out that there’s also no limit on how many times you can listen to a song, which is different than other streaming music service I’ve seen. And Amazon is also trying to match their ability to recommend new songs, removing the barrier he describes as “deciding what to listen to.
“Just play any of the hundreds of Prime Playlists our music experts have created for you.”
It’s one more benefit for their already-attractive “Prime” shipping service — which also includes free two-day shipping and free videos from Amazon’s library, plus the ability to “borrow” a new book each month from “the Kindle Lending Library.” And Amazon also provided a clue about just how popular their Prime program is. I’ve never seen them actually reveal the number of subscribers to the service, but today they annouced it has “tens of millions of members”. So that means that, at minimum, there’s at least 20 million people using Amazon’s Prime Service.
Which means 20 million people just got free access to Amazon’s streaming music service!