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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hardware, Mason, Hardware

We had a holiday party at work yesterday afternoon — good excuse to knock off for a couple of hours and nosh on some horsey-doovers. In the past, the company would rent out a club and invite spouses along; with the economy the way it is, they decided to dial it back… only a little. The big pile of geek-compatible door prizes was still there, though (the smallest prize was an iPod nano, or maybe a digital photo frame). For the first time in like, ever, my name got pulled out of the hat! The way this works, you come up and draw a number out of a second bag; they match the number to your prize. I got a Kindle and a $50 Amazon gift certificate.

While I was aware the thing existed, I’d seen a Kindle in meatspace only once, in the hands of a co-worker taking a break outside. The second one I’ve seen is sitting next to my keyboard on the desk. I haven’t registered it yet, still going through the user manual. (Professional courtesy, don’t you know.) Amazon says it’s about the size of a paperback — which is true, if you’re talking trade size:

Kindle/paperback comparison

I found myself surprised at several things as I unpacked the Kindle and got it going: on the display is a brief set of instructions telling you to plug it in and turn it on (with illustrations). I assumed that there was a transparent overlay on the screen, and actually tried to peel it off with my thumbnail before I realized the display was showing it. They claim their “electronic paper” display doesn’t require much power once it’s showing the page. The display is 16-shade greyscale, and it looks really clear and sharp. It’s not backlit, which means you can’t read in the dark, but that’s what wind-up flashlights are for; they claim you can read in bright sunlight, and I’m not too skeptical about that claim. Other surprises include a rudimentary MP3 player, web browser, and data access over the Sprint cellular network (on Amazon’s dime)… Sprint’s signal out here at the manor is better than I expected; I usually get 3 or 4 (out of 5) bars. It’s supposed to hold about 1500 books, which would keep me busy for a long time were I stranded on a desert island with the Kindle (and a solar panel to recharge it). Sleep mode displays random woodcut-like graphics: portraits of classic authors, ancient manuscripts, and so forth.

Like the iPhone, Amazon has built an ecosystem around the Kindle. Unlike the iPhone, Amazon is providing other means to access that ecosystem: Kindle readers for iPhone, PC, (eventually) Mac, and so forth. This makes sense; Apple is about selling hardware and Amazon is about selling books. Both companies are using the ecosystem they’ve built to sell more of their product. One thing the Kindle store does that I wish the iTunes store did: keep a record of your purchases and let you re-download them if necessary.

Downsides? The Kindle doesn’t feel like something you’d spend $259 on. It’s light, almost airy, and (despite the brushed metal backside) doesn’t give me the impression that it’s rugged enough to live the hard life of a mobile device. The buttons are probably better than they feel, but I wonder how long it will be before the labels wear off. The Kindle is too big to fit in a pocket, even a cargo pants pocket, but it could go in a purse or briefcase (or courier bag). Finally, I have to wonder how long Amazon will allow free data access beyond the confines of their store, especially since it has a lightweight web browser.

The geeks are already hacking away at the device; it runs a version of Linux and some folks have managed to install software needed to make it a more general-purpose computer. Amazon has wisely taken a hands-off stance, although I suspect they would get rather exercised if people were to pound on the network too much. This is something I wouldn’t have bought for myself, but now that I have it I’m interested in seeing what it can do.

Mason was not in a wonderful mood much of yesterday. He woke up twice last night, maybe more… I got up with him twice anyway. Mrs. Fetched took him to the doctor today, and she suspects he has rotavirus, aka “baby flu.” Here’s hoping he gets over it soon. He tries really hard to be good-natured, and nothing brightens up a house like a baby laughing. Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest got the tree put up and strung some LED lights on it, and he loves looking at all the colors.

Since Mrs. Fetched needed the car to take Mason to the doc, I ended up on the motorcycle. It was one of those mornings where I put in all the linings in the jacket, added more layers underneath, cranked up the heated gloves, and only my feet froze. I’m working at the office all week since we have a new contractor in and I need to throw all the stuff I can’t get done on him (and help him get started doing it). He and I worked at the same place about 12 years ago, and dimly recognized each other at the interview… he likes his motorcycle too, and was glad to see mine.


  1. Farf, if you ever have Kindle questions, feel free to shoot me an email. I've had 4 Kindles (each version) and love it greatly!

    There are some wonderful open source products (Calibre) to manage your library, especially if you're downloading free e-books (there's a ton of public domain stuff out there - all the great classics).

    Oh, and the comparison size book--love the choice you made!! ::g::

  2. Hiya FAR,

    I've never even seen a Kindle except on the internet. I'm not sure how I could handle reading a book by using a Kindle. I'm sure I would grow used to it, but I think the biggest thing Kindle would present to me is a new toy to play with. It's sort of like when I get a new program for my computer. I disregard everything else until I've learned everything I can about that program, and then for some reason I get bored with it. I think being able to pull up books would do away with some of the boredom, but.....

    Anyway, hope you enjoy!

  3. Thanks Maria, I thought you'd appreciate that! Jim pointed me to a site with lots of PD classics out there, and I guess Gutenberg is getting in on the act too.

    FM, if you like to get really geeky, the Kindle actually can be turned into a computer, so I've heard. It seems to be a new little world to explore. Whether it's worth $259 is another question… Maria seems to think so!

  4. Good luck with the kindle, Far. I'm curious to see if it can actually be hacked to perform ordinary computer functions. Keep us updated. And give Mason a hug for us.


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