Amazon Fans Share Halloween Jokes

Laughing Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin cartoon
I’ve found a lot of good information about the Kindle at its page on Facebook, and also on the other Facebook pages from Amazon. (Besides their usual Daily Deals announcements about Kindle ebooks, today they also announced a $2.00 Halloween discount on any mp3 album if you’ll connect Amazon to your Twitter feed.) But last Saturday morning Amazon caught me off guard. They posted a Halloween riddle!

“Where does a ghost go on Saturday night?” Amazon asked its Facebook fans. “Guess the answer, or share your favorite pun-filled Halloween joke in a comment below!” And what amazed me wasn’t the riddle, but the way that it provoked an enormous flood of very creative responses. Now it’s a sunny Halloween afternoon, and I see Amazon’s riddle has racked up nearly 700 different responses from all around the country.

So where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“To the BOO-vies?” suggested a college student in Georgia.
“To see his ghoul-friend!” suggested another student in Oregon.
“To the spooktacular,” suggested a woman in Arizona.
“Wine and Spirits store” suggested a student in Texas.
“To the spook-easy for a beverage,” said a man in California
“He goes Boo hopping, of course,” posted a woman in North Carolina, “for a bit of brew and spirits.”

I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t find Amazon’s official answer — but I was equally impressed there were so many possibilities! Where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“The boo-ling alley,” suggested a student in Chicago.
“to the BOOlavard!!” posted one California college student.
“To the boooonies,” posted a woman in Florida.
“Anywhere where he can boo-gie,” suggested a man in New Jersey.
“Up to their boo-doir for some Resting In Peace?” suggested a woman in Arizona.

The best answer of all seemed to come from a Kindle owner. (“Ghosts sit and read boo-ks!”) Another user suggested ghosts go “To BOOks-a-million,” and one comment was apparently inspired by the new popularity of ebooks, posting “Wherever it is, it’s sure not the booooook store.” Author Sharif Khan even used the opportunity to promote his books on Facebook. “Ghosts like to visit my author page and click ‘like’ for some strange reason. It’s a mystery.” But my favorite response wasn’t a pun at all. (“Those ghosts. You can always tell when they’re planning something mischievous — they’re so transparent!”)

What would’ve been confined to a classroom was a virtual conversation across the entire country. It wasn’t even confined to America. Someone even posted an answer from a college in Bangalore, suggesting that on Saturday nights a ghost likes to “Hang out at his favorite haunt!!” And a man in England made a very clever pun, suggesting the ghosts who want to gamble go “To a wraith track!” Halloween had magically united everyone for a moment around a riddle of the random ghost. So one more time — where does a ghost go on Saturday night?

“Scare Dancing!” said a woman in Kentucky.
“He goes to Ho-boo-ken, NJ,” suggested a man in Pennsylvania.
A student at Ole Miss thought the ghosts would go to “A footboo game!”
A student in Michigan suggested “a Boomitzvah!”

“To a boootiful place,” said a woman in Delaware.
“I’d tell you,” posted a woman in Wisconsin, “but it’s un-boo-lievable.”

One response even came from a mother.” My 10 year old says ‘roller scaring’!” And instead of karaoke, one woman suggested the ghosts would sing “Scareyoke!!”

“to the boondocks…”
“to the booseum, to see the moan-ets”
“Out with the ghouls?”
“To the bar and ghoul.”
“To the Ghostry store.”
“the boo-tique”
“To a boo-ery! Haha!”
“He goes BOOzing with his friends! :)”

“He goes bar haunting!”
“That way he can drink some boos…”
“Up to their boo-doir for some Resting In Peace?”
“to his Mummy’s?”
“to the booty parlor”
“he went to amusement park for (roller GHOSTER)”
“No where,” suggested one woman. “He’s got no body to go with.”
“He goes out to eat and orders Ghoulash. ”
“He works the graveyard shift”
“Out on the Ghosttown of course!”
“Deer Haunting”
“To bed because the sunday they have to get a booo_ stershot”
“She doesn’t go out…she needs her Boo-ty sleep!”

One Missouri student even contributed her own Halloween joke. “Why was the skeleton afraid to cross the road?” she asked. “Because he didn’t have any guts!” And even shorter one-line came from a woman in Arizona. “A Skeleton walked into a bar, and asked for a beer and a mop.” And a woman in Alabama offered this Halloween pun. “What do you call a witch who lives at the beach? A sand-witch!!”

Soon it wasn’t just Amazon’s ghost riddle any more, but a wave of everyone’s most-favorite Halloween joke.

“What do you call a hot dog with no center? A hollow weenie”

“What do Italian ghosts eat: spookghetti”

“What do vegetarian zombies eat? Graiiins, graiiins!”

“What happens when a ghost gets lost in the fog? He is mist.”

Maybe I’m just a big kid who loves the holidays — but it was nice to see so many people having some Halloween fun. It proves that Amazon’s been successful at building a small community of fans for themselves on another social network site, today I also noticed another way Amazon’s integrating themselves with Facebook. When you add something to your Amazon wish list, they can automatically post an “update” about it to your own Facebook page (or your Twitter feed — or even send an e-mail about your wished-for items to your friends). In the long run Amazon may get a few more sales.

But for consumers, it’s also just a new way to have fun.

Happy Halloween!


How Zombies Conquered the Kindle

Cover illustration from R. L. Stine's Goosebumps zombie high school ebook

Are zombies taking over the Kindle? If you haven’t been paying attention, you may not have noticed the rising zombie invasion. Search the Kindle store for the word “zombie” and you’d see 1,992 results — back in September. Perform the same experiment this morning, and you’d find 277 more Kindle ebooks about zombies….

That’s an increase of 13.9% from one month to the next! And currently one of the top 100 free ebooks in the Kindle Store is something called Super Zombie Juice Mega Bomb. The real message may be that this Halloween, there’s more self-published authors writing zombie fiction. Even the Library of Congress has only 523 books with “zombie” in their title. Oh my god, run everybody — Amazon’s Kindle store has four times as many zombies!!!

They’re not real zombies, but it does suggest the Kindle store’s amateur authors are especially attracted to the zombie genre. (Or are they? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the amateurs from the pros.) Take a peek at the new titles, and you’ll be startled at just how many zombie ebooks there are. Don’t look now, but the living dead could be shambling up to your Kindle!

Here’s some of the stranger ebooks.

Zombie Girl Invasion
Wesley and the Sex Zombies
The Scarlet Zombie Sketchbook #1
Bachelorette: Zombie Edition

A Girl’s Guide To Falling In Love With A Zombie
Rock And Roll Reform School Zombies
My Life as A White Trash Zombie
The Zombie Attached To My Head

Zombie Lust and The New Flesh
How to Make Love like a Zombie
My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band
Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!

Trailerpark Zombies
Zombie Road Trip
Jesus vs. the Zombies of Perdition
Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space

To be fair, “Texas Biker Zombies From Outer Space” is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, “intentionally designed to give the reader an interactive experience using the advantages over print that E-Books allow.” And Zombie Spaceship Wasteland was written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, using the horror movie monsters as a metaphor in a collection of essays “vividly evoking his zombie-like co-worker,” according to Booklist‘s review. Even 71-year-old literary author Joyce Carol Oates — twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize — named her 2009 novel Zombie (P.S.) It’s about a serial killer — named Zombie — who keeps a diary as he pursues his victims.

But yeah, most of the titles in the Kindle Store aren’t as ambitious.

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It
Married with Zombies
Zombie Blondes
Zombies Eat Lawyers

Confessions of a Zombie’s Wife
Slow and Sweet: A Love Story, With Zombies
Zombie Erotica: An Undead Anthology
Never Slow Dance with a Zombie

A Cold Dark School with Zombies at the Gates
Zombie Queen of Newbury High
Zombie Fight Song
Jesus Camp Zombie Bloodbath

The Code of the Zombie Pirate
Battle of the Network Zombies
Hungry for Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance
Diary of a Duct Tape Zombie

I can understand why some of these books aren’t in the Library of Congress. (It’s probably more surprising that there’s any zombie books in the Library of Congress.) But to explore the popularity of stories about the shambling undead, I asked my friend Thomas Roche, a professional writer for more than 15 years, who’s just published his first novel about zombies. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a quote back.

I think zombies may have actually eaten his brains.

Or maybe he’s just busy reading all the ebooks he’s competing with…

Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies
Zombie Dawn Apocalypse
Breaking News: an Autozombiography
Brains For Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!

Road Kill: A Zombie Tale
I, Zombie
The Christian Zombie Killer’s Handbook
Zombie Hero #3: “Keep On Truckin”

Zombie Combat Manual
The Zurvivalist – Real Life Solutions to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse
Zombology: A Zombie Anthology
Brains: A Zombie Memoir

Zombie Sniper
You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News
Zombie P.I.
Why I Quit Zombie School

That last book is actually the newest book in R. L. Stine’s popular “Goosebumps” series of scary stories for younger readers (which have sold more than 350 million copies. I used its colorful cover at the top of this blog post. It’s easy to laugh at the titles, but they may have tapped into a storyline with some primal universal appeal. Some authors have enjoyed wild success by re-creating our darkest nightmares, and maybe that’s the ultimate irony.

It’s not that the zombies are attracted to our brains. It’s that our brains are attracted to zombies!

Zombies vs Unicorns
Zombies Sold Separately
Zombies and Power Tools
Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs

Zombie Jamboree
Zombie Safari
Zombies for Jesus
Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombies

Jailbait Zombie
What Do You Do With Dead Zombies?
Forward, Shamble!: A Bob the Zombie Novel

The Art of War for Zombies – Ancient Chinese Secrets of World Domination, Apocalypse Edition
Superheroes vs Zombies
The Adventures of Zombie Boy
Zombie Butts from Uranus

There’s even zombie Christmas books, believe it or not, including A Zombie Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead: a zombie holiday tale. (Plus A Zombie Christmas and “A Christmas Wish: A Zombie Tale for the Holidays.”) If you think that’s confusing, try reading The Christmas Zombie: The story of why zombies celebrate Christmas. And if you’re just looking for holiday cheer, there’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (Christmas carols “composed specifically for…the decomposing).”

Some authors have also tried their hand at creating zombie books for other holidays. (Like Dangerous Hunts: A Zombie Father’s Day Tale.”) And A Very Zombie Holiday even follows a zombie father as he attempts to celebrate every holiday with his living family. If you’re after a classic bedtime story, there’s Snow White and the Seven Dead Dwarves: A Zombie Fairy Tale.” And for educational purposes, there’s also something called Zombie Ed Counts To Twenty, and its sequel, Zombie Ed Loves Halloween. (“Text-to-speech enabled… Finally! A zombie book for children! “)

And — uh-oh. Here comes another wave of more strange zombie ebooks…

Zombies vs. Nazis
Don of the Dead: A Mafia Zombie Novel
The Zombie Cookbook
“Rednecks Who Shoot Zombies, on the Next Geraldo”

501 Things to do with a Zombie
Zombies Wearing Hats
Zombies Hate Vegetables, Too
Grampa’s Zombie BBQ

Frankenstein, The Zombie Hunter
Love in a Time of Zombies
An Inconvenient Amish Zombie Left Behind The Da Vinci Diet Code Truth
Zombies Don’t Play Soccer

Dr. Zombie Lives Next Door
Zombies Ride Motorcycles
Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion
Zombies at the Bar Mitzvah

I’m not sure what to make of an ebook called James Joyce and the Zombie Priest, though it’s attracted at least one positive review on its web page at Amazon. (“If there is a better zombie version of Araby by James Joyce, it would be news to me!”) This trend probably all started when real-world bookstores started seeing big sales of a 2009 parody novel called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (crediting Jane Austen as a co-author). It rose to #3 on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia, apparently spawning a new generation of even stranger zombie novels — and zombie ebooks. There’s even a Garrison Keillor parody called The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten that’s attributed to an author named Harrison Geillor. (“The humor in this parody lies in the simple truth that even a zombie bear with a hatchet in its head won’t faze a Minnesotan,” writes Publisher’s Weekly.)

And there’s zombie parodies of other books — like Zombies of Oz (and The Terrible Zombie of Oz). There’s also The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim and Wuthering Heights and a Werewolf…and a Zombie Too.” Someone’s even written zombie versions of two Sherlock Holmes stories, a book of zombie fairy tales, and a zombie version of The War of the Worlds (“plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies”). And if you liked Great Expectations, you might try Pip and the Zombies, by Charles Dickens and Louis Skipper.

In the two years since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the concept has apparently festered its way into a full-fledged literary movement. I was surprised to see a book titled simply Zombies for Zombies — until I realized it was a parody of the “For Dummies” book (receiving thirteen 5-star reviews). There’s also The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zombies, which strangely is not a parody, but an official title in the “Idiot’s Guide” series, which traces the origin of zombie stories with chapters about books, movies, and comic books. But just when it couldn’t get any creepier, I discovered that there’s even some zombie books that are actually about personal investing.

Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance
How to Prosper During the Coming Zombie Apocalypse
Workplace Of The Living Dead: What Zombies Can Teach Leaders About Engaging Employees
Zombie Project Management

And there’s also some zombie history books. (Which, honestly, throws some doubt over their historical accuracy.)

A Zombie’s History of the United States
A Tale of Zombies in Czarist Russia
A Tale of Zombies in the Old West
Everything My Grandmother Taught Me about Killing Zombies
The Eagle has Re-Animated
Pappy’s Old Time Zombie Radio Show
Zombies Take Manhattan

There’s something strangely inspiring about the sheer number of books that have ultimately been inspired about zombies. It’s nice to see this massive outpouring of new creativity, as people all around the globe start wondering what’s going to happen in their imaginary zombie scenario. In fact, zombies are turning up in a surprising variety of different kinds of books. Though some authors even seem to think that maybe the lonely zombies just need a friend…

Zachary Zombie and the Lost Boy
Jude and the Zombies
Peter Crombie, Teenage Zombie
Nobody Wants to Play With Zombie Jesus

Jasper, the Friendly Zombie
How I met Barbara the Zombie Hunter
The Student from Zombie Island
Zombie Joe and the Pogo Stick legs

Growing Up Zombie
Oh No, Our Best Friend is a Zombie!
Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse
Proper Care and Feeding of Zombies

Zombie Mommy
Phredde and the Zombie Librarian
Day of the Field Trip Zombies
Mom and Dad Aren’t Getting Along (Now That Mom’s a Zombie)

Maybe they were also inspired by the success of the Twilight series of books about a vampire’s teenaged romance. (One ebook author has even written Vampire Among the Zombies.) But I had to laugh when I saw an ebook titled “Where are the Zombies?”

Dude, you’re not paying attention. They’re everywhere!

Amazon Offers Special Low Prices on Kindle eBooks

The Haunting Hour book cover by R I Stine

Time is running out — and I almost forgot to share one of my favorite web pages for the Kindle! Every month Amazon picks 100 ebooks to offer at a big discount — always $3.99 or less. (Just point your web browser to ).I’ve looked through this month’s selection, and discovered there’s some really great books that are still available at very cheap prices! The special offer ends Monday — but then Tuesday there’ll be 100 more ebooks available at the same low prices.

And of course, every day Amazon offers yet another 24-hour special on another ebook at Today’s “Daily Deal” is especially intriguing if you like Matt Damon’s movies in the “Bourne Identity” series. I’ve seen all the movies based on Robert Ludlum’s books — but I didn’t know his series had continued after Ludlum’s death in 2001. Starting in 2004, seven more “Bourne” books were written — the second of which is available today for just $3.99. It’s identified as Robert LudlumTM‘s The Bourne Betrayal, though it’s written by Eric Van Lustbader. “Subsequent to his death, books written by other authors have carried the phrase Robert LudlumTM on their covers,” Wikipedia reports, “thus asserting the name Robert Ludlum as a trademark. The actual author (not technically a ghost writer) is identified inside.” It’s a Halloween miracle – an author who kept writing after he was dead!

But I’m equally intrigued by the 100 other ebooks Amazon’s priced at just $3.99 or less for the month of October. (Watch out! These deals will disappear at midnight on Halloween!) Amazon’s even ready to help you celebrate the holiday with some special “spooky” books. If you’re a fan of R.L. Stine, they’re selling two different collections of his scary short stories for just $1.99 each.

Each collection has 10 short stories, and one enthusiastic fan declared Nightmare Hour the “Best Short Story Book Ever!!” In a 2007 review on Amazon, they described the creepy plots of each of its ten stories. (“Pumpkinhead… A crazy tale of three kids who go to a pumpkin patch at night, and the terror that lurks within.” ) Even the titles of the chapters suggest lots of fun for young horror fans. There’s “Make Me a Witch,” “Alien Candy,” and even one that’s called “Afraid of Clowns.”

You can see the book’s creepy cover at the top of this post. “I hope you get the picture and buy the book,” writes the enthusiastic reviewer, “because it’s really awesomely cool and fun and terrifying to read at night!”

R. L. Stine had sold over 400 million books by 2008, according to Wikipedia, and there’s a second collection of stories available that’s called Haunting Hour. Some of its more intriguing titles are “How to Bargain with a Dragon,” “The Bad Baby Sitter,” and “Revenge of the Snowmen.” And for every parent who’s had to drive their children on a long trip, there’s even a short story called “Are We There Yet?”

I think the first really scary movie that I ever saw as a teenager was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho — and it’s the subject of a great book by Stephen Rebello. Apparently the movie was based on a real-life serial killer, according to one review, and when novelist Robert Bloch sold his book’s movie rights, he “had no idea who bought it and sold it for very little, but his reputation was made for life.” Psycho‘s startling surprises (and its “shower scene”) made the movie a legend, and a shared experience that a lot of movie-lovers still treasure. This book’s author interviewed nearly everyone involved in its production — including Alfred Hitchcock — and the movie’s star, Anthony Perkins, called it “marvelously researched and irresistible … required reading not only for Psycho-philes, but also for anyone interested in the backstage world of movie creation.” (And Time‘s movie critic called it “one of the best accounts of the making of an individual movie we’ve ever had.” )

Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho house book cover

You can probably tell that I love movies, and you know who’s reviewed every single one of them? Roger Ebert. I’m also a big fan of Roger Ebert — he once let me do a short interview back in 2001 — and now for $2.99 you can get the newest edition of his “Movie Yearbook”. It includes 500 full movie reviews — including every review he’s written in 2008, 2009, and seven months of 2010 — plus his interview with Muhammad Ali, essays about the Oscars, moving tributes to John Hughes and Walter Cronkite, plus his reports from the Cannes Film Festival. He’s a famous film critic (and a Pulitizer Prize-winning author), but what did he think of Avatar, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Inglourious Basterds? The print edition of Ebert’s book normally costs you $29.99 — so it’s a minor miracle that through Monday night, Amazon’s pricing it for just $2.99.

I never actually read the “Boxcar Children” series of mysteries — and I was surprised to learn it dates back to 1924. In fact, it was during World War I that a Sunday school teacher named Gertrude Chandler Warner first got the idea for a series of stories about four orphan children who live together in an abandoned boxcar. Nearly a century later, new stories are still being written for her characters — and in the newest one they confront zombies! “Is someone hiding information?” suggests a plot synopsis at Wikipedia.

“Or should the Boxcar Children really be afraid of things that go bump in the night?”

Is the Kindle Hurting Amazon’s Profits?

Amazon stock dropping chart

Tuesday night, Amazon told the world what they’d earned over the summer — and the news sent a shock to their investors on Wall Street. At one point overnight, Amazon’s stock lost 19% of its value, according to Bloomberg News. And analysts seem to be placing part of the blame on the Kindle.

“We’re not seeing the investment pay off yet,” an analyst at Evercore Partners told Reuters, adding “I think investors are impatient as to how long will it take…” Though he didn’t directly mention the Kindle, it’s clearly been one of Amazon’s biggest investments in 2011 — and another executive at a sales software company specifically pointed to its impact on Amazon’s profit margins. “The revenue is a little light, but margin is where the biggest variance is from Wall Street’s expectations,” Scot Wingo explained to Reuters on Tuesday.

“This is largely due to Amazon’s investment in the Kindle Fire.”

According to Bloomberg News, Amazon “reported a plunge in third-quarter profit after it ramped up spending on new products such as the Kindle Fire tablet.” They reported that analysts were expecting much more from Amazon — though the article was also quick to identify what may turn out to be the silver lining. “Even as profit shrinks, revenue is benefiting from surging Kindle orders, propelled by customers ditching paper books in favor of electronic versions.”

In fact, Amazon’s net sales increased a whopping 44% from where they were a year ago, to $10.88 billion dollars for just the three months between July and September! And Amazon has a long history of seeking more customers rather than more profits in order to expand the company. I remember the day in 1999 at a dotcom where I worked, when a co-worker scoffed that Amazon had never — ever — actually reported a profit. Two months later, our own dotcom failed. (In fact, the man who’d told me that went to work for another dotcom — which then also failed within five months.) But exactly two years later, Amazon reported their first profit in 2001. And of course, is still there a decade later — and it’s now the world’s largest online retailer.

So instead of adopting a short-term focus, I look at how Amazon’s positioning themselves for the future – and today, Amazon dropped some interesting clues. CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that the day they announced the new Kindles in September “was the biggest order day ever for Kindle. Even bigger than previous holiday peak days!” Plus, they’re selling more of them than they did past versions of the Kindle. “In the three weeks since launch, orders for electronic ink Kindles are double the previous launch,” Bezos said in a statement.

“And based on what we’re seeing with Kindle Fire pre-orders, we’re increasing capacity and building millions more than we’d already planned.”

I wondered if that’s why Amazon scheduled their press conference for the last days of September — so they could count those pre-orders as part of Amazon’s profits for the summer quarter. (And it gives Amazon a way to show investors they were offseting all the costs of building them!) But Bezos’s statement also seems to imply that Amazon’s now expecting to sell at least two million more Kindles than they’ve already sold. It’s a guess that’s echoed by an analyst at Barclays Plc, who’s predicting that Amazon will sell 4.5 million in just the last three months of 2011. That’ll add up to nearly a billion dollars in Kindle sales for just 92 days!

Tuesday’s drop in Amazon’s stock price meant that at one point poor Jeff Bezos had seen his portfolio drop $4.67 billion within just a few hours, according to Bloomberg. And buried in their article was another small piece of bad news. Over the summer Amazon also lost more than half a billion dollars in shipping costs, spending $918 million in shipping expenses while taking in just $360 million to cover it. Bloomberg attributes that partly to Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service, which grants unlimited two-day shipping for a flat once-a-year fee of just $79. Fortunately, Amazon’s added new warehouses in over a dozen states to keep shipping costs lower — but of course, that’s also cost them some extra money just to get them set up!

It’s fun to go back and look at what Bezos was telling investors before Amazon revealed their Kindle Fire tablet. At a time when it seemed like Amazon was simply spending money on research, Bezos told the audience that “We are planting more seeds right now.” Historically Amazon has endured some scorn for their strategy of growing their customer base rather than grabbing easy profits. But Amazon’s response has always been that once people became regular Amazon customers, they also generate regular profits for Amazon — month after month.

I think Amazon’s making some of the right moves — which may be absolutely necessary if they’re going to survive in a digital age which has already sent Borders’ printed-book stores into bankruptcy. After all, Amazon built their business selling printed books, and they’re trying to ensure that they don’t get left behind when a new book-reading technology comes along. In just the month of July, seventeen publishers reported a total of $82.6 million in ebook sales, according to Publisher’s Weekly, which also noted that this sales figure was 105.3% higher than in July of 2010. In fact, that was the smallest year-to-year increase seen so far in 2011, and for the year, total ebook sales increased by 152.8% — to $560.5 million. Amazon’s trying to position their book-selling business so sales can continue long into the 21st century. This means if you wanted to bet on Amazon’s future prospects, Tuesday’s stock market turmoil was actually good news.

Because if you’ve ever wanted to buy Amazon’s stock — now it’s a lot cheaper!

SpongeBob SquarePants Comes to the Kindle

Happy SpongeBob Squarepants smiling and jumping

Yes, it’s finally happened. That whimsical (or annoying) little yellow sponge has officially arrived on the Kindle. Thursday Mobigloo games — the makers of Jewels and Reversi Deluxe — released “SpongeBob’s Treasure Quest,” a new game for the Kindle using characters from Nickelodeon’s popular children’s cartoon.

The yellow sponge is now black and white — but he’s also wearing a pirate’s hat and an eyepatch over one eye. There’s no animation — the storyline is advanced with four-panel comic strips — but you can almost hear the characters’ goofy voices as you’re reading the dialogue.

Hey Patrick, look at this old map.

Wow SpongeBob, that’s not just any old map. That’s a treasure map!

Wow. Whaddya say we go on a little adventure?

Okay. Where do you want to go?

The game’s web page at explains that “It’s up to you, with a little help from Patrick and Sandy, to guide SpongeBob through the deep to uncover the treasures for the Krusty Krab.” The restaurant where SpongeBob works competes with “The Chum Bucket,” and their arch-rivals try to stop him from collecting the treasure icons scattered throughout 50 grids. “It is slightly like Pixel Perfect,” explains a review on Amazon, “in that you have a grid with numbers on the side with information.” Within 48 hours, it had already become one of the top 10 best-selling Kindle games — and it currently ranks as the #239 best-selling item in the entire Kindle Store!

As strange as it seems, I feel like the SpongeBob gives the Kindle some more legitimacy as a platform for game developers. It’s the first “brand-name character” to appear in a Kindle game — someone who’s already very well-known from a major mainstream cartoon. Is it possible that someday we’ll see Kindle games with Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Shrek? Even if you’re not a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, this still feels like a milestone.

Technically SpongeBob made some earlier appearance on the Kindle — in audibooks. In 2003, Audible began releasing audiobook versions of the “chapter book” stories for young readers describing new adventures for the show’s characters. They were read by Mr. Lawrence — one of the voice actors for the show — though unfortunately, he’s not the original voice of the talking sponge, and young listeners may notice the difference. Then again, the show’s creator had originally wanted to call the character “SpongeBoy.” His network insisted he change it when they discovered that name was already taken — by the marketers of a mop accessory!

Of course under the ocean, sponges aren’t yellow and perfectly square, but the show’s creator had made the switch as a kind of private jokes for marine biologists. (Before his career as an animator he’d earned a degree in natural-resource planning at Humboldt State University, according to Wikipedia, and his emphasis was on ocean resources.) His cartoon has since become not only Nickelodeon’s highest-rated show, but also its longest running. It’s been on the air since 1999.

The game developers who produced this game also created the Kindle utilities Easy Calculator and Sticky Notes (as well as Mahjong Solitaire and the new “Mahjong Solitaire Halloween Edition”). And the bottom line is that it’s yet another new way to have fun on your Kindle. My friend Len Edgerly interviewed me for his podcast this week (“The Kindle Chronicles”), and I tried to explain why I’m so excited about the variety of new games available on the Kindle.

Now you’ve reached a point where you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of developers, and it’s going to get wacky, like all the apps you can find on your iPhone now, where any high school kid or college kid or crazy inventor someplace out there in the world who has a wild idea for some kind of game or some kind of app, some kind of instantaneous local celebration of the holiday — can boom! Make it available in the Kindle Store for your Kindle.

I think this is an interesting hint about the future that’s going to come, where we start seeing new things to do on your Kindle that were dreamed up by some guy someplace with a wild idea. And it’s going to open the doors for all kinds of creativity and all kinds of fun, and new things that we haven’t seen before on our Kindles…

More fun things we can do than we ever dreamed possible.

Will Librarians Revolt Over Amazon’s Kindle Lending Program?

Librarian in Black Sarah Houghton

A California librarian is raising her voice about what she sees as issues in Amazon’s new program for checking out library ebooks on a Kindle. “I’m very, very disturbed about the new Kindle lending practice that Overdrive has implemented,” she explained Tuesday in an impassioned, 10-minute video online. “It’s a new service. It’s something a lot of libraries are very excited about, and with good reason.

“But there’s a lot going on here that I think library staff are not necessarily aware of or have really thought through.”

She’s calling on librarians to complain to their Overdrive reps — and directly to Amazon. (To watch the video, point your computer’s web browser to .) Her basic issue is that librarians should always protect their customers’ reading history, but now Amazon’s getting that data on their own servers (which may even violate California’s newly-passed “Reader Privacy Act.”) And she also notes that many libraries have strict policies against endorsing a particular product, whereas Overdrive’s program actually completes their transactions on, including a pitch that urges library patrons to purchase more books. (And there’s even book-buying plugs in your “due date” reminders.)

I’m a big fan of the Kindle — and ebooks — and to be fair, it sounds like she is too. She bought a Kindle last December, and wrote a blog post soon after titled “Why I am a library traitor and love the Kindle.” At the time she noted her issues with the Kindle as a librarian — that e-book sharing was limited, and that library lending wasn’t available. Those are two areas where Amazon has since made some big improvements, and she honestly went back and updated the blog post. It shows that this reaction is coming from a Kindle lover who feels forced to acknowledge that “in our greedy attempt to get content into our users’ hands, we have failed to uphold the highest principle of our profession, which is intellectual freedom. And that’s not acceptable.”

“Kindle has allowed Amazon to harvest all of this borrowing data. So it’s an instant violation of all of our privacy policies…. [I]f they’re using a Kindle, Amazon’s keeping friggin’ everything. And we haven’t told people that, and we need to tell people that. So one thing here in California, particularly, is that recently a state bill was passed, 602, called the Reader Privacy Act, which states that library use and borrowing habits are protected as are our purchases from bookstores and so forth. Basically, you have the freedom to read what you want, and not be penalized for doing so. And it’s, I’m fairly certain, a very grey area right now that Amazon and Overdrive are in, because Amazon is keeping data on what our customers are borrowing and they’re not really supposed to.

So according to this bill, I might be violating state law simply by putting information out there to people in a format that works with their Kindles. And I haven’t told people this in my library. Because how do you tell people, “Well this great device that works really well, and it’s the smoothest check-out process of any device or format that we offer here in the library — but it violates your privacy, it jeopardizes your intellectual freedom, and, you know, it might kinda be against state law, but I’m not really sure.” How do you say that to people?

But I think it’s important for us as library staff to figure out a way to say it to people, because it’s our job to stand up for their privacy and their reading rights, even when they don’t know when that they’re in jeopardy.

Her video has already drawn some interesting comments — and started a discussion about other issues in Overdrive’s program for lending Kindle ebooks. “Another important problem is that they have not adequately addressed accessibility for screen reader users,” one viewer posted. “Kelly Ford explains some of the problems here: Ensuring non-discriminatory access for library users is just as important as privacy and intellectual freedom.”

And another user noted that library lending faces challenges from some other powerful companies. “Not only is Amazon and Overdrive in control but the publishers should get their share of the blame. If a publisher doesn’t want readers to be able to borrow an ebook, it doesn’t happen. For example, MacMillan and Simon & Schuster have opted out of the lending program. Two of the top six. Of course if you are a self-publisher, good luck even showing on the radar. We know something is up when the top ebook authors are missing from a library catalog: Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and Louise Voss, all top ebook authors are missing from my local library’s catalog.”

I think it’s important to remember that this call to action comes from some who’s committed to reading and to books in some very real world situations. Sarah Houghton — the librarian in the video — is the Assistant Director for the two public libraries in San Rafael, California, and she’s also been writing a blog for eight years called the “Librarian in Black”. Over time, she’s gotten familiar with how a library’s mission can benefit from the arrival of new technologies. She works with state and national library advocacy organizations, and she’s on the ebooks task force for the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy. Libary Journal even named her as a “mover and shaker’ (in their 2009 “trendspotter” category).

If you want to read a complete transcript of Sarah’s video, click here. There’s a little bit of profanity towards the end when she really lays into Overdrive. “You thought, ‘Well, we can tell them what’s going to happen, and they’re going to get mad. Or we can not tell them what’s going to happen, and we can bank on the fact that most of them aren’t going to notice, and the ones who do are probably not going to say very much or be very loud.’

“Well guess what? I’m getting ******* loud!”

To get Amazon’s response, I tried contacting their Kindle-Feedback address, where I received the following response.


Thanks for writing about Amazon’s overdrive library lending program.

And I’m very sorry for any inconvenience in this regard. We take these issues very seriously.

I’ve forwarded your message to the appropriate department. Customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the service we provide, and we’re glad you took time to write to us.

We look forward to seeing you again.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here…

sarahinred - librarian Sarah Houghton
Image of Sarah Houhgton by Peter Martin Jorgensen

New Halloween Games for the Kindle

Kindle game Futoshiki - Halloween edition

It’s two weeks until Halloween, but the holiday is already having a strange effect on the game section of the Kindle Store. There’s several new “Halloween” versions of some popular Kindle games. And Amazon has also released yet another free mystery game of their own!

It’s fun to see game developers taking their established Kindle titles, and updating them with special Halloween editions. The best-selling game in the Kindle Store right now is the “Ultimate Halloween Quiz” — and it’s one of the top-40 best-selling items in the entire Kindle store! HandyX has already created seven other “interactive quiz” games, but this one promises questions about monsters, magic, and other October-appropriate topics. “Do you know Mary Shelley from Marilyn Manson, or Freddy from Jason…?” asks the game’s description at “Questions topics include horror movies, Halloween facts, scary novels, gruesome history, magical creatures, myths and legends. Halloween will never be the same!”

And there’s also a spooky new version of the Sudoku-like logic puzzle, Futoshiki. “Futoshiki Halloween Edition takes an eerie twist as witches and zombies take over in a graveyard game board,” warns the game’s page in the Kindle store. There’s a dangerous-looking tree in the background of the game board, and the top of the screen even includes the silhouette of a witch. But somehow, the stark contrast on the Kindle’s black-and-white screen seems to fit the holiday perfectly.

Both those games were released just last Wednesday — and there’s also a new Halloween version of the game Blossom. This has always been one of my personal favorite Kindle games, and it’s fun to see it getting a holiday makeover. In the original version, you’d rotate squares in a grid to connect a network of pipes to make some flowers blossom. But in the Halloween edition, those restful flowers have been replaced by jack-o-lanterns — and instead of a watering can, they’re connecting to a black witch’s cauldron!

Kindle game Blossom - Screenshot of Halloween edition

And believe it or not, there’s now even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire. “This game is so fun it’s scary!” reads its description in the Kindle Store, which promises to complement its 13 different layouts with two special Halloween tile sets. Their pictures include pumpkins, tombstones, and even something that looks like a smirking ghost. At $3.99, it’s one of the more expensive Kindle games — but if you like Mahjong Solitaire, this looks like a fun novelty.

And there’s one more new game in the Kindle Store with a special connection to Halloween. The makers of Slingo have just come up with “Poker of the Dead” — which combines the challenges of the classic “Texas Hold ‘Em” card game with…zombies! It’s a seven-day tournament (with 10 hands per day), with a dramatic backstory adding the complication of an onslaught by the living dead. But fortunately, according to the game’s description, your zombie opponents “have no brains, never fold, and will always call your bet.” The phrase “winner takes all” gets a whole new meaning, but if you defeat all these poker-playing zombies, you’ll live to fight another day.

Amazon’s newest free game isn’t quite as creepy — but they’ve taken a classic logic puzzle and given it a nice Kindle adaptation. “Grid Detective” recreates those story problems you may remember from puzzle magazines — where, for example, there’s four people receiving four kittens that are four different colors. So who got which kitten? The game offers a series of cryptic clues — but you can “crack the case” if you carefully track them all, and also make the right inferences. In the paper-and-pencil version, you’d have to draw your own grid to keep track of all your deductions, but Amazon’s made this game much simpler to play by creating their own detailed interface. It may not be the most mysterious game ever, but the whole “intrigue” theme seem appropriate for Halloween.

Are we seeing a trend of things to come? Next month will we see special Thanksgiving editions of games for the Kindle — and even more versions for other holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Days? My crystal ball remains hazy, but I do think this is more significant than it seems. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets will include lots of homegrown apps from outside developers, so there’ll eventually be hundreds of extra brains trying to dream up new ways to entertain us. Maybe this is our first taste of what that future will be like.

But whatever happens, I’m glad to see that there’s already independent Kindle developers out there who are dreaming up their own fun new ways to use a Kindle to celebrate Halloween!

What’s Amazon’s Most Popular Kindle?

Most Popular Version of Amazon's Kindle

I’ve been studying Amazon’s best-seller lists, trying to figure out which Amazon products are the most popular. Each hour, Amazon updates the lists for each category — including the “Electronics” department, where all their Kindles are listed. I realized today that it’s a great source of information about the new Kindles. And it seems to offer a definitive answer to the question: which of Amazon’s new Kindles is the most popular?

It’s their full-color touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet. In fact, it’s the #1 best-seller in Amazon’s entire electronics section — even though it’s also one of Amazon’s most expensive Kindles ever. But the #2 best-selling Kindle — both last week and this week — is Amazon’s least expensive Kindle ever. It’s the $79 Kindle, which ships with sponsored screensavers and “Special Offers”, and it seems to settle the question as to whether customers would accept ads on their Kindles in order to get a cheaper price.

In fact, the next four Kindles on the best-seller list also all include the special offers and sponsored screensavers. The third best-selling Kindle is Amazon’s other new model, the Kindle Touch, and again, consumers are opting for the cheapest one — the WiFi-only version that ships with advertising for $99. And surprisingly, the next best-selling Kindle is the old Kindle 3 — now called the “Kindle Keyboard”. (But again, it’s the cheaper $99 WiFi-only version which ships with “Special Offers.”)

This isn’t just a temporary phenomenon. I checked this list one week ago, and its rankings were exactly the same for the top four best-selling Kindles. In fact, since they were released 17 days ago, all Amazon’s new Kindles have stayed on their list of the top 100 best-selling electronics products. But it gets more interesting when you realize how many other versions there are of the new Kindles — and watch how they’ve fluctuated up and down on the list.

#5 is now the 3G version of the Kindle Touch (with Special Offers). Apparently even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version. Even a week ago, it was still in the #7 spot, and you’ll see the same trend in the #6 best-selling Kindle. It’s the 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard with advertising, proving that even consumers who were willing to pay a little more for 3G connectivity still wanted to save money by buying the Special Offers version.

But the #7 spot went to the international version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle without advertisements. And last week, it was in the #5 spot — so there’s still a few bargain hunters who just won’t buy a Kindle if it’s got advertising. Confirming that trend, the #8 spot — both this week and last week — is the cheaper WiFi-only version of the Kindle Keyboard without advertisements. Some shoppers were willing to forgo 3G connectivity — but not the ability to own a Kindle without advertising. In fact, the #11 best-selling Kindle this week is also the ad-free version of the WiFi-only basic Kindle (for $109) — the non-international version. But the ad-hating consumers seem to represent a smaller piece of the Kindle market. Proving this, I see that one Kindle has dropped out of the top ten altogether. The #9 best-selling Kindle used to be the ad-free, 3G version of the Kindle Keyboard at $189. This week, it’s fallen all the way to the #12 spot.

And I had to laugh when I saw which product claimed the last two slots in top 10. Apple’s iPod touch has now claimed both those spots — #9 for the 8-gigabyte version, and #10 for the 32-gigabyte version. I’ve been writing about Apple’s fight for dominance in the tablet market , and it looks like on Amazon’s best-seller list, you can watch it happening in real time. Last week, there was only only non-Kindle product in the top 10 — and it wasn’t from Apple. Instead, the #10 spot went to Garmin’s 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator (whic this week is #13).

Of course, the lists can’t tell you how many Kindles have been sold — but it’s still a fun source of other trivia. For example, I think it’s amazing that the Kindle Keyboard has now racked up reviews from over 32,990 people!

I wonder how many reviews the Kindle Fire tablets will have one year from today?

Fighting Kindle Fire: Will Apple Release an iPad Mini?

Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle

There’s yet-another rumor about a new tablet device. Apple may launch a price war with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet — by releasing their own cheaper iPad tablet!

If the rumors are true, Apple would release the device in early 2012. Apparently a financial analyst went straight to the source — the manufacturers of tablet components in China and Taiwan. There, he heard “rumbling” about an “iPad mini,” according to the Apple Insider blog. “The ‘mini’ name doesn’t necessarily refer to the size of the device, he said, but a lower entry-level price.”

“‘We believe this lower priced iPad could be priced in the mid-to-high-$200 range,’ White wrote in a note to investors. ‘We expect this will be followed by a much more powerful, feature rich standard-priced iPad 3 in (the second quarter of 2012).'”

A lower price could boost sales around the world, in both developed and “developing” countries, according to the analyst. But it’s also a clear response to the new tablet from Amazon. The Kindle Fire, priced at just $199 put some real “price pressure” on the iPad (which sells for $499). It’s the newest battleground in a war between Apple and Amazon that’s been going on for the last four year.

In 2007, Steve Jobs was asked about the newly-released Kindle at Apple’s annual “Mac World” conference — and he predicted a rocky reception. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read any more,” Jobs told reporters. “40% of the people in the United States read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top — because people don’t read anymore.”

Of course, at best that was always a “glass half empty” statement. (It also meant that 60 percent of Americans do read more than one book each year.) And according to a more-recent poll, now it’s only 25% of Americans who read one book or less each year, with 75% of Americans now reading more than one. (Plus, there’s apparently another 40% of Americans who every year read at least 11> books.) And the poll found even higher percentages for us people who own a digital reader. Each year a full 62% of us read at least 11 books, while 26% of us are reading more than 20 books!

In any case, the Kindle became an extremely successful product, and when Apple finally unveiled their iPad in 2010, Steve Jobs acknowledged that they’d include the ability to read ebooks. He conceded that Amazon “has done a great job of pioneering this… we’re going to stand on their shoulders for this.” But he still remained cold to the idea of a tablet that was smaller than the iPad — like the 7″ Kindle Fire
tablet which Amazon eventually introduced.

“One naturally thinks that a 7-inch screen offers 70% of the benefits of a 10-inch screen,” Jobs said one year ago in a conference call. “This is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal so a 7-inch screen is only 45% as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. The screens on these tablets are a bit smaller than the bottom half of the iPad’s display. This size isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps in our opinion. While one could increase the resolution of the display for some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper so that the user can sand down their fingers to a quarter of their present size.”

It’s fascinating to read Jobs’ remarks in the conference call — just one year before his death — in light of the rumors of an “iPad Mini” that’s coming in January. It may be that it will be just a cheaper version of the iPad (keeping its large 10-inch screen). But if they do make the iPad smaller, they’ll be defying the intense criticism that Jobs laid down just 12 months ago. “Apple has done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a screen before users cannot tap, flick or pinch them,” Jobs had said. “This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

“The 7-inch tablets are tweeners – too big to compete with an iPhone and too small to compete with an iPad.”

…our potential competitors are having a tough time coming close to iPad’s pricing – even with their far smaller and far less expensive screens…The proof of this will be in the pricing of our competitors’ products, which will likely offer less for more. These are among the reasons we think the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA – dead on arrival.

Their manufacturers will learn the painful lessons, that their tablets are too small and increase the size next year, thereby abandoning customers and developers who jumped on the 7-inch bandwagon with an orphan product.

Ellen DeGeneres Visits the Kindle

Ellen Degeneres

I was surprised when I visited Amazon’s Kindle Blog — and discovered that the person writing it was Ellen DeGeneres! The comedian/talk-show host was a “guest blogger” on Thursday — and she had a message for us all.

“Hi, e-readers! I hope you are e-reading something good. I was just thinking — you know, I’m always thinking. Sometimes I’m thinking about the world we live in, sometimes I’m thinking about work, sometimes I’m just thinking about seedless watermelon. How do they have babies?

“Anyway, I was just thinking that all you e-readers out there should know about the new book I wrote. It’s called Seriously… I’m Kidding and it will have you rolling in the aisles — if you decide to read it somewhere with aisles, like a movie theater or a supermarket or even during a wedding ceremony. ”

The blog post helped push Ellen’s book onto Amazon’s best-seller list, and within five days of its release, it became the #35 best-selling book in the entire Kindle Store. (And #1 in the Entertainment/Humor subcategory). Ellen’s a fun personality to watch, and it turns out that she’s also a very witty writer. (And she provided the voice of Dory, the big blue fish in Pixar’s animated movie, Finding Nemo.)

I didn’t know much about Ellen, so I looked her up on Wikipedia, where I learned she’s won four daytime Emmy awards for “outstanding talk show host” , and another five daytime Emmies for having “an outstanding talk show”. (Plus three more daytime Emmies for the show’s writing.) She’s starred in two different sitcoms, she’s hosted both the Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and last year she was even one of the judges on American Idol. (She once joked that she’d become so attached to the young singers in the competition that in the end, “they’re probably all going to end up living at my place.”)

“Seriously…I’m Kidding” isn’t Ellen’s first book on the Kindle. Other titles include “My Point…And I Do Have One,” a 1996 book which came to the Kindle store in March. (And another 2003 Ellen title is also available as an ebook — “The Funny Thing Is… “) But it looks like in all the books, she’s done a good job of transporting her cheerful personality into an entirely new format. Here’s the way she opens her newest book.

“Dearest Reader,
Hello. How are you? That’s great to hear. Listen, I want to thank you for buying this book. We’re about to begin a beautiful journey together – one that is unique and special. I know a lot of you might watch my talk show, but communicating through a book is different than communicating through television. Like, on my talk show I tell you what’s going on in my life and what I’m thinking about each day. But in this book, I’m going to tell you what’s going on in my life and what I’m thinking about — you know what, I don’t want to waste your time with silly comparisons.”

There’s one funny problem with the book’s sample chapter. Ellen makes some funny claims about her accomplishments, but then backs down from them in self-deprecating footnotes. “[S]ince I wrote my last book a lot has happened in my life. I got married. I got my own talk show. I started a record label. I became a CoverGirl. I was Dory. I won an Academy Award.* I won the Boston Marathon.** I started a compost heap.*** And I was knighted by the Queen of England.****” Unfortunately, the footnotes aren’t included with the ebook’s sample chapter — so there’s no way to confirm when she’s kidding! (I sent an e-mail to Ellen’s show, joking that “Maybe I need to start watching your show more. I didn’t know half that stuff!”)

But the bottom line is her new book is full of jokes, and it seems like a lot of fun. It was just last week that it turned up in the Kindle Store, and it’s spent every day since in the top 100. She’s obviously attracted a large audience of loyal fans from her TV shows (and her funny blog posts) — so I’ll give Ellen the last word.

“What’s really exciting about you e-readers getting my book is that now you won’t just be e-readers, as in electronic readers. You’ll be e-readers, as in Ellen readers! You don’t even have to change your name, and I think that is “e” as in excellent.”

The Kindle Discovers Christopher Columbus

Portrait of Christopher Columbus

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. He also perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes, placing fake newspaper ads seeking Irving’s fictitious Dutch historian, 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!) 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 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 available for the Kindle. (“…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.”)

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:

Washington Irving’s The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,

The Life of Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time.

Christopher Columbus and the New World of His Discovery

And thanks to the Washington Irving Society for putting up a link on their site to this post!

Amazon Remembers Steve Jobs

Amazon front page tribute after death of Steve Jobs

Today Amazon posted a memorial to Steve Jobs on the front page of It read simply: Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011. When you clicked on the link, it went to, which had posted the same words beside a picture of their co-founder.

All across the web today, people are remembering the man who helped change their lives. I sat down to write about Steve Jobs on my desktop computer — and realized that he’d actually helped invent the desktop computer. It’s a legend in Silicon Valley that’s probably worth remembering today. 35 years ago, at the age of 21, he’d teamed up with Steve Wozniak to sell home-built personal computers from Jobs’ garage.

Jobs didn’t design those first computers, but his personality helped launch the personal computer revolution. When he was 29 years old, he’d tried to lure Pepsi’s senior vice president of marketing to Apple. Unfortunately, the VP had already decided against accepting Jobs’ offer before he’d even sat down for their lunch. But he’d changed his mind after hearing a speech from the passionate young visionary. Jobs argued, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Most people know the highlights of Jobs’ life. (That year was 1983, and the next year Apple would release their legendary Super Bowl commercial arguing that the new Macintosh computers would show people “why 1984 won’t be like [George Orwell’s] 1984.”) But by building Apple into a successful brand, Apple helped legitimize personal computers, proving there’s a market for “consumer technology.” And under Jobs’ leadership, they proved it again two decades later with new mobile products, which ultimately helped to pave the way for Amazon’s Kindle.

Today even my friends who use a PC are still sharing fond and grateful thoughts — along with nearly everybody else — and you can see signs everywhere of an almost global response. The best-selling book today on Amazon is Steve Jobs — a yet-to-be released biography by Walter Isaacson (a former CNN chairman and the managing editor of Time magazine). It’s also the third best-selling ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Store (and, presumably, it will also be available in Apple’s iBookStore.) Today the founder of Facebook even posted a personal statement about Steve. “Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world.” And 355,835 Facebook users clicked the “Like” icon to show they agreed.

In fact all across Facebook, nearly all my friends were posting their own reaction. “I tend to think of him as ‘Uncle Steve’,” wrote a friend of mine who worked at Pixar. “That is what at lot of us called him at Pixar while I was there, because Uncle Steve took care of us. And when I did see him around Pixar, more often than not he was smiling and seemed happy… Good job Uncle Steve.” My friend Tom — a motorcycling enthusiast — shared one of his favorite photos of Jobs riding a motorcycle. “Ride on, Steve,” Tom posted. “You’ll be missed…”

Steve Jobs on a motorcycle

But there’s a forgotten legend about Jobs — the “wilderness” period between 1985 and 1997 when he’d parted ways with Apple to start his own computer company. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice,” Jobs once said. “And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Job was determined to import the “garage start-up” feel to his new company, Next Computer. “He abandoned conventional corporate structures, instead making a ‘community’ with ‘members’ instead of employees,” remembers Wikipedia. Besides the open floor plans, everyone received exactly the same salary when they started — with regular raises and performance reviews — and “to foster openness, all employees had full access to the payroll.” Everyone at Next was paid a month in advance, and in one building the company even hosted temporary art exhibitions using an in-house curator!

Jobs later said his time outside of Apple was the best thing that happened to him — “The heaviness of being successful…replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” If you ask a geek, they’ll tell you that Next Computer helped to popularize the “object-oriented programming” style of designing software which has since become an industry standard. But in the popular imagination, it’s Jobs’ excited ambition that you think of when you imagine the head of a cutting-edge technology company.

He gave good tradeshow, I told my girlfriend — and of course, Mac enthusiasts fondly remember Jobs’ return to Apple. Much of the technology developed at Next found its way into Apple’s computers, and
Apple’s sales increased as the company introduced a series of new devices like the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone. Just yesterday morning I’d been writing a post about how Apple would respond to Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet. But the truth is, Jobs had been thinking about the answer for at least 15 years.

I believe Steve Jobs recognized that desktop computers were just the “first generation” of devices. If there’s a pattern after his return to Apple, it’s a focus on smaller and smaller devices. Jobs recognized that technology was going mobile, and was already positioning his company for the future. “Don’t you see what’s happening?” argues one technology site. “PC’s are 1990, man! Handheld devices are approaching the processing power of PCs – and everyone has at least one… It’s like Microsoft just cornered the market on Univacs.” And by 2007, Apple was already selling just as much recorded music as the entire chain of Target stores — and more recorded music than Amazon.

Today on Facebook, my friend Joab shared his favorite comment from the technology web site, Slashdot. “Bill Gates put a computer on every desk; Steve Jobs put a computer in every pocket, and in every purse.”
One of the most moving photos I saw today showed a San Francisco memorial service where a mourner held a picture of Steve Jobs…on their iPhone.

Steve Jobs on an iPhone

And my friend Jonathan posted a link to a new memorial in Boston. “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…” reads the inscribed quote from Jobs himself. “Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”

Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Ad – plus the Song and Its Lyrics

Ink well from Kindle Fire ad

I’ve always loved Amazon’s slick ads for the Kindle — and they’ve created another one to promote their new color/touchscreen “Kindle Fire” tablet. It opens with a quill pen lifting a drop of ink out of a copper pot. “The instruction we find in books is like fire,” the announcer intones — reciting a quote from Voltaire.

“We fetch it from our neighbors, Kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes property of all.”

The parchment is on a desk where a drawer is opened, revealing the metal letter blocks for a printing press — history’s next technology for transmitting words. “From Kindle, Fire is born,” the announcer continues, as the words reappear on the screen of a Kindle being read casually at the beach. Then the camera pulls back even further, revealing that someone is watching a video of that ad in their living room on the new touchscreen Kindle tablet. “A Kindle for movies, music, web, games, and reading,” the announcer concludes. “Kindle Fire.”

Within two days, the ad had been watched nearly 700,000 times on YouTube – and it’s been fun to see the reactions. “I’m watching this on my iPad,” joked one viewer in the comments — while another comment offered a different perspective: “thank god they didnt over price like Apple!” And another viewer had one very specific gripe. “…like all good things, this is US only. You selfish bastards!”

What makes this ad so effective is its music, and I finally tracked down the original song. It’s called, appropriately, “Words,” by a young new band called the Givers. (They’re a Louisiana-based group which just released their first album, Light, in June.) You can hear the whole song in a video at . It’s a stunning musical jolt with intense vocals and a pounding beat – and it’s got some strong lyrics to match.

It almost reads like an ode to all the new self-published authors who are finding an audience on the Kindle.

The words we say today, we’ll say.
And we’ll see them again. Yes, we’ll see them again.

So I choose my words so carefully,
like the sun, make it glow, or they glare at me.
Well, I choose light.
I like that warm,
keep me up at night.

And I pry that door of honesty
And as the warmth shines in, it dawns on me
That I choose light
To guide me through my actions at night.

The words we say today, we’ll say
And we’ll see them again. We’ll see them again.
The words go out so far, and come back so hard.
And we’ll see them again. Yes, we’ll see them again

So just hold up. Don’t fold up,.
Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know
You’ll see it again. Yes you’ll see it again

And if your notion is in motion
Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know
You’ll see there’s no end. Yes you’ll see there’s no end, end, end, end, end, end, end, end…

The waves high, slow tide, see them, go I
You’ll see them again, you’ll see them again.
And if the waves ride high, then so will I.
Before you know, before you know, before you know, you’ll know.
And you’ll see them again. You’ll see them again.

The words we say, today, we’ll say.
And we’ll see them again. We’ll see them again
The words go out so far, and come back so hard.
Yes we’ll see them again. We’ll see them again.

The words we say. The words we say
The words we say. The words we say
So I’ll choose my words so carefully
I’ll choose my words so carefully

The 10 Biggest Surprises about Amazon’s New Kindles

New Amazon Kindle Touch web browser surprise

There’s been some unexpected discoveries in the details about Amazon’s four newest Kindles. I’ve tried to identify the 10 biggest surprises in the list below — starting with five bad surprises, and then five good.

1. There’s No 3G Web Browsing
“Browsing available only in Wi-Fi mode,” reads the incriminating words on the 3G version of the Kindle Touch. Reportedly over the weekend some Amazon customer service reps incorrectly told customers they could still use Amazon’s 3G network access for web browsing on the upcoming Kindle Touch. “We apologize for the confusion,” reads an official response Sunday night from “The Amazon Kindle team” in an online discussion forum at “Our new Kindle Touch 3G enables you to connect to the Kindle Store, download books and periodicals, and access Wikipedia – all over 3G or Wi-Fi.” But… “Experimental web browsing (outside of Wikipedia) on Kindle Touch 3G is only available over Wi-Fi.”

2. Power Adapters Not Included
A USB cable is always included with any Kindle that you buy, so presumably you can always charge them just by plugging them into a USB port. But for both the new $79 Kindle and the Kindle Touch, Amazon’s not including a power adapter. (They’re sold separately, for $9.99).

3. One Miserable Keyboard
Originally I’d thought the $79 Kindle shipped with a touchscreen, because there isn’t a keyboard built into its plastic frame — just an on-screen keyboard. But apparently there’s no way to actually type letters into that onscreen keyboard — at least, not using the “touch-typing” that we’re used to with other devices. Instead, Amazon pulls up a picture of a keyboard, then lets you slowly nudge your controller key (up, down, or sideways) to gradually move a highlight across the keyboard — one key at a time — until it’s finally highlighting the next letter you want to type. (And then you press the controller one more time, to select that letter.)

79 Kindle keyboard uses controller instead of touchscreen
If you’re planning to input text to search Amazon’s Kindle Store, Wikipedia, or Google, and you’re buying a $79 Kindle — expect it to be a little awkward and time-consuming!

4. Your Personal Documents are now Stored at
Apparently now even if you e-mail a file to your Kindle, Amazon keeps a copy on their “cloud” servers. On Amazon’s interactive list on the “Manage Your Kindle” page (at, users are now seeing documents listed that they’ve e-mailed directly to their Kindle. They’re listed after selecting the “Personal Documents” choice from a pull-down menu labelled “Your Kindle Library” (along with more menu choices for books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, audible audiobooks, and active content). The only choice for personal documents is deleting the document from your Kindle — but it shows how committed Amazon is to the concept of a “cloud,” a virtual Amazon-controlled space where your documents are always waiting in limbo, for whenever you want to access them again. If the entire document is also stored, this creates an automatic back-up copy, but some privacy-sensitive users might already feel weird if a multi-billion dollar corporation has suddenly started creating lists of their own personal documents and photos.

UPDATE: One of my readers contacted me saying that “your personal documents are only stored online if you choose to do so. By default, the option is turned on, but you can turn it off…”

5. Amazon Prime not Included
You’ll only get a one-month free trial of Amazon’s Prime shipping service when you buy a Kindle Fire tablet. Maybe Amazon’s figuring it’s such an essential part of the tablet experience, most customers will still be willing to pay an extra $79 for a one-year subscription. But I’d thought Amazon would offer a much longer trial to try luring Kindle Fire customers into buying more things from Amazon’s store.

Now here’s five of the biggest good surprises about Amazon’s new upcoming Kindles…

1. Kindle Fire will have a NetFlix App!
Besides watching video from Amazon’s online video store, you can also use a Kindle Fire tablet to watch online videos from NetFlix! (Besides sending DVDs to your home, NetFlix also has a streaming video service that lets customers “Watch Instantly” online.) And one technology blogger noted Amazon was emphasizing this point during their big announcement on Wednesday. “The video service is one of four big developers – along with Pandora, Facebook and Twitter – that should have apps ready for the Kindle Fire at launch, Amazon has said over and over again…”

2. The Kindle Fire Supports Flash
It’s easy to take Flash for granted when you’re surfing the web from a desktop computer – but it’s a big deal to have this capability in a tablet. Apple’s iPad travelled a rocky road while trying to get its own version of Flash, but Amazon’s tablet will have it fron its very first day.

3. The Silk Browser is Incredibly Fast
There’s already been some complaints about how Amazon’s handling privacy in the new web browser they built for their Kindle Fire tablet. But it’s been designed specifically to provide faster web browsing, using Amazon’s servers to pre-format web pages before they even get to your tablet. “That provides a much better user experience,” an Amazon engineer explains in an online video, and another engineer even acknowledges their goal was “to kind of change the whole game, and really re-think how do you do web.” (“It’ll seem like a traditional browser — just a lot better and a lot faster than you’re used to working with.”) That’s a big claim, but there’ll be a lot of happy Kindle Fire owners if Amazon can pull it off. “We were only shown a brief glimpse of the new Silk browser,” reported the technology bloggers at Engadget, “but we must say the thing appears to deliver on its promises.”

4. One Special Offer Can Pay for the Cost of a Kindle.
Amazon knows customers don’t necessarily want ads on their Kindle – but they’ve worked hard to line up some very attractive offers. “[S]pending $114 on the Kindle saved me 20 percent on buying a new Apple MacBook Air,” reported one finance columnist, “a savings of $200.” He notes there’s been other discounts which exceed the original price of a Kindle with Special Offers, including a 20% discount on new LCD television screens. (“Some KSO buyers saved hundreds of dollars on their new TVs,” the columnist notes!)

5. Amazon’s Selling Kindle Fire at a Loss
Amazon’s also spreading around some other big discounts. The day after Amazon announced their new Kindles, their stock dropped more than $7 a share — a whopping 3.16%. It more than wiped out the 2.5% gain from Wednesday when they’d first announced their new Kindles. Amazon’s stock continued dropping on Friday — another 2.79% — but what’s bad for investors is often good for consumers. The stock drop is apparently tied to a report from an influential stock analyst who believes Amazon is selling each Kindle Fire tablet at a $50 loss.

On the big day when the new Kindles were finally announced, CEO Jeff Bezos posted a special message on the front page at “There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less…

“We are firmly in the second camp.”

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