Falling out of love with ebooks

October 4th, 2015

When Amazon released the first Kindle, Craig Mod had high hopes for the future of ebooks:

[You…] could trace elements of that first Kindle – its shape, design, philosophy – back 70 years. It evoked the Memex machine that the American inventor Vannevar Bush wrote about in 'As We May Think' (1945), a path-breaking essay for The Atlantic. It went some way toward vindicating Marshall McLuhan's prediction that 'all the books in the world can be put on a single desktop.' It was a near?direct copy of a device called the Dynabook that the early computer pioneer Alan Kay sketched and cardboard?prototyped in 1968. It was a cultural descendant of the infinitely paged Book of Sand from a short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges published in 1975. And it was something of a free-standing version of the ideas of intertwingularity and hypertext that Ted Nelson first posited in 1974 and Tim Berners-Lee championed in the 1990s.

The Kindle was all of that and more. Neatly bundled up. I was in love. […]

(Mod has written a post that amounts to a supplement to his Aeon piece here.)

Some of the strands of Mod's argument leave me cold. His perfectly understandable enthusiasm for the tactile and aesthetic pleasures of opening up a beautifully designed book printed on high quality paper isn't something I feel all that strongly about,1 but beyond that it seems to me that sensual qualities of that sort are pretty much never going to be replicated by a slab of glass, plastic and metal no matter how clever the software it runs. Even so, Mod is absolutely right to criticise Amazon for not having advanced the state of the ebook reading experience much since they launched the Kindle. Ultimately, the name of the game isn't to imitate what paper books can do, it's to do things that they can't. Amazon have unquestionably done good things with their Kindle software recently – the X-Ray feature is marvellous if the book you've bought supports it2 – but the long wait for left-justified text on Kindles rather suggests that Amazon are fundamentally more interested in selling ebooks than reading them.

  1. I'm ultimately more interested in the text of the book than the paper quality. Yes, I'm a philistine.
  2. It was a huge help recently when I read Neal Stephenson's Seveneves and needed to remind myself who some minor character who'd just shown up for the first time in 300 or so pages was.

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The Real Amazon Store

December 4th, 2014

John Herrmann's piece on how Amazon are gradually moving into making more and more – very carefully selected – categories of stuff is really good. But also deeply scary if you're a rival retailer with profit margins being bolstered by your sales of some of your less glamorous product lines:

Taken together, these products adhere to no particular aesthetic or theme – a house filled only with Amazon-brand products would look and feel like prefab model home. Again, since this is Amazon, the explanation is probably data. Not data about what people want, exactly, but data that suits Amazon's goals: these must be relatively popular and relatively expensive product categories where brand loyalty isn't too strong, and where Amazon can find cheap manufacturing partners. It's a logistics partner looking at its suppliers and saying, dozens of times, "how hard could that be?"

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The Kindle wink

April 26th, 2014

Robin Sloan has noticed something interesting about Amazon's 'Manage Your Kindle' web service:

If you own one of Amazon's e-readers, there's a good chance you've accessed the "Manage Your Kindle" page at some point. […]

Do you notice anything strange about that URL? […]

Who is Fiona?

What's fiona? An acronym, perhaps. Functional… Internet-Oriented… Native… Application? File I/O Network Access?

No. It's not a what but a who […]

As it happens I rarely use the web page to manage my Kindle1 so that's my excuse for not having noticed this before now and I'm sticking to it!

  1. I mostly manage my Kindle content through the client software on my iPad or Mac.

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Introducing O.W.L.S.

December 2nd, 2013

Introducing O.W.L.S.:

Putting O.W.L.S. into commercial use will take a number of years as it takes ages to train owls to do anything and we only just thought of it this morning.

I can but echo the first comment on that post: Well played, Waterstones. Well played…

[Via Sidelights]

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LET Eggs=N+1. LET Baskets = 1.

August 7th, 2012

Getting beyond the particulars of how Mat Honan had hackers use social engineering to get his passwords reset and his iOS and MacOS devices remote wiped, for my money here's the key lesson of the whole sorry saga:

I bought into the Apple account system originally to buy songs at 99 cents a pop, and over the years that same ID has evolved into a single point of entry that controls my phones, tablets, computers and data-driven life. With this AppleID, someone can make thousands of dollars of purchases in an instant, or do damage at a cost that you can't put a price on.

This isn't just about Apple – it's about all the corporations expanding from their original niches into as many corners of our online life as possible.1 Having a single sign-on is scary, and only gets more so as the uses of that ID expand over time.2

I'd like to think that scares like this would motivate Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the rest to get this stuff right lest the public be discouraged from signing up for all the different services they offer, but I fear that convenience wins out all too often.

  1. For what it's worth, I haven't enabled iCloud on my Mac Mini or my iPod Touch. Not because I foresaw this sort of problem; it's just that I don't see the benefit of iCloud. I bought my iPod Touch as a replacement PDA, not a device for accessing the internet on the move. In any case, given that when I'm at work I'm not in range of an accessible WiFi service, so my iPod Touch isn't going to be accessing iCloud anyway.
  2. I dread the day when Apple finally make some feature I really want/need insist upon having access to iCloud. That might be my cue to take a close look at whatever the successor to the Nexus 7 turns out to be.

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An Internet for the incurious

June 30th, 2012

James Bridle, on Amazon's seductively convenient mix of books and infrastructure:

The great fear of the Internet is that we will be washed away in a tide of information, that the sheer scale of everything will overwhelm us, and that that everything is inferior, condemning us to wallow in the mud at the foot of an ever-receding Parnassus. And yet one of the many things the Internet has taught us is that surface quality of media comes a poor second to access, whether it's typographically inhibited self-published fan fiction or barely discernible YouTube camera-phone films.

What makes the Kindle unique is what makes Amazon unique: its physical presence is a mere avatar for a stream of digital services. In the spirit of its parent, it is more infrastructure than device. And it is as infrastructure that it disrupts, as its biblioclastic name intends.

[Via cityofsound]

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Someone buy that man (or woman) a thesaurus

December 19th, 2011

The Email Person at Amazon Web Services is Really, Really Excited.

[Via Waxy.org]

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Better left unposted?

August 22nd, 2011

Unedited Thoughts About Technology:


The most mindblowing thing in technology right now is your inability to make products that people love (with very few exceptions). Brilliant, creative people work for you, and they have seriously incredible ideas. You have more money than Jesus Christ's rich uncle. I have these crazy high expectations, these hopes that you'll blow me away and you totally let me down. Just try making something other than an Xbox that I can fall madly in love with, and that more than 5 other people will buy because you didn't wait until 3 years after the rest of the market to launch it? Please? Also: I can't fucking believe you won't have a real tablet until 2012. I guess we can use it to liveblog the end of civilization. It better be so good Jesus Christ himself rides down to earth on it, if you're going to take that long. People like Skype, though, and Windows 8 looks alright maybe, so good job there. I guess.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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The Internet Operating System defined

March 31st, 2010

Tim O'Reilly's The State of the Internet Operating System is being linked to all over the place, with good reason. It's a wide-ranging survey of the state of the internet, and the fork in the road that's fast approaching:

I've been talking for years about "the internet operating system", but I realized I've never written an extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we face. This is that missing post. Here you will see the underlying beliefs about the future that are guiding my publishing program […]

We are once again approaching the point at which the Faustian bargain will be made: simply use our facilities, and the complexity will go away. And much as happened during the 1980s, there is more than one company making that promise. We're entering a modern version of "the Great Game", the rivalry to control the narrow passes to the promised future of computing. (John Battelle calls them "points of control".) This rivalry is seen most acutely in mobile applications that rely on internet services as back-ends.

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Uranium Ore

August 22nd, 2009

The customer reviews for Uranium Ore at Amazon are a hoot:

Ok for cleaning teeth, not so great for killing ants.., December 3, 2007

By Nero Goldstein "Bemused by a Muse" (The Great Nation of Texas)

Picked this up for use in one of my kid's 'diversity' projects in school (Great Success!), and stuck the leftovers in the cabinet next to the baking soda.

Ran out of toothpaste, and remembered how you're supposed to be able to use baking soda to clean your teeth, so of course, I accidentally used this instead, and Wow! all I can say is, my teeth have never been cleaner! They sparkle, they tingle, and for some reason, they STAY clean now, no matter what. Highly recommended!

However, when I ran out of that fire-ant killer powder stuff, I figured I would try some for that too.

Big mistake!

Boy, it sure did not kill those ants!

Fortunately, those suckers get slower as they get bigger, so I have been able to use a shovel to take care of most of them, one at a time though, the sneaky devils.

And the darn trash man refuses to take them away..

I would have given this product 5 stars for the teeth and the project on embracing diversity, but I deducted one star because of the giant mutant ants.

[Via The Early Days of a Better Nation]

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