Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kindle & eBooks

My son gave my wife and I Kindles for Christmas. The Kindle comes in a variety of models and prices. There’s one with a keyboard, which is shown in the photo at top, there’s the Kindle Fire, which can surf the web, and there’s the basic Kindle, which is primarily an e-reader, though it does have a web browser built in. We have the model that’s linked to over on the right.

The Kindle can hold 1,500 books, and you can store many more on your computer, or on Amazon’s cloud. Many books are available free. These are, for the most part, older works that have entered the public domain. In such cases you cannot be certain that you are getting reliable editions of the work, but if you want a copy of Tom Sawyer, and don’t care about introductions, footnotes, and so on, or if you’re looking for something cheap to read, the price can’t be beat.

The Kindle doesn’t have a light, so it can be difficult to read in low light conditions, but you can find LED lights that clip on and illuminate the device. We got one from Belkin at Target that works fairly well. You turn pages on the Kindle by using controls on the side. My hands want to press a bit lower than the controls are placed, but you can get used to it. The other controls, at the bottom of the device, are small, and a bit tricky for people with large hands, i.e., guys, to use, but again you can get used to it.

The device is easy to carry, and if you’re reading the latest Clancy is easier to handle than lugging around the latest tome with the adventures of Jack Ryan, Jr. and company.

I’ve read two extended works so far. The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry, and Locked On by Tom Clancy.

The Jefferson Key is the weaker of the two. The plot centers around a group of latter day pirates who are operating under a letter of marque given to them by George Washington, and one of the first congresses. The McGuffin is what is known as the Jefferson wheel, a device for encoding and decoding messages that was developed by Thomas Jefferson. Berry claims that the code was not broken until sometime in the 2000s, 2009 if I recall. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says that the device was behind State Department ciphers that were used until the 1940s. In any case the message that is the cause of the ruckus is brief, and is probably easily decipherable by anyone willing to put the effort into it. Berry spoils the pacing by having several action scenes going on simultaneously. He cuts from scene to scene, and this has the effect of prolong each action sequence so that they are spread out over 50 to 100 pages. I found that I lost track of who was who, and stopped caring. I should also note that since the story hinged on the refusal of the government, via the president, to honor its legal obligations to the pirates, I felt more sympathy for the nominal bad guys, the pirates, who were getting shafted by the benevolent gov’t, than I did for the putative bad guys.

Locked On is Tom Clancy’s latest. It’s a collaborative effort set in the Ryanverse, the universe that has Jack Ryan in it. I’m not sure if Clancy provided the plot, and an outline while the other guy wrote the book itself, or if they broke the writing into segments, so that Clancy wrote certain sections, and the other guy did different ones. At Baen, a sci-fi publishing house, the first option is the usual procedure for collaborations, but it may differ from publisher to publisher and team to team.

The story centers around Jack Ryan’s run for re-election as president, after having resigned a term or two before, and terrorist plots in Afghanistan and Russia. Ryan’s opponent, and the incumbent president is Ed Kealty. Kealty is Clancy’s stand-in for a variety of scummy politicians, especially the liberal variety of scum. In earlier novels he was somewhat Clintonesque, and was accused of rape. In this one he’s more of an Obama clone, and has ties to a financier name Paul Leska. Leska is Czech, and is a thinly disguised version of Glenn Beck’s favorite creepy dude George Soros. He’s every bit as repugnant as Soros, and just as vile.

One thing you can do with a Kindle is highlight passages, and then copy them into a document. Here’s a quote I highlighted that illustrates Kealty’s similarity to Obama:

“A few weeks back, a guy at a Kealty Q&A in Denver had the temerity to ask the President of the United States when he thought gas prices would drop back down to where he could afford a road trip with his family. Kealty, in a moment that must have made his minders groan, shook his head at the question from the working stiff and suggested that the man see this as an opportunity to go out and buy a hybrid vehicle. Not one of the major media outlets or wire services ran the quote. Ryan himself brought it up the next morning at an electric motor plant in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, making the obvious point, seemingly lost on Kealty, that a family having trouble filling their tank might have trouble purchasing a new car.”

Clancy, Tom; Greaney, Mark (2011-12-13). Locked On (pp. 193-194). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

There’s also an attorney who is modeled on the woman who defended the blind sheik, the mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade Center.

The novel is twice as long as The Jefferson Key, but moves faster, and is better paced.

So what’s on my Kindle? Well, as you might expect, a fair variety of stuff. There’s a travel guide to London, Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson; Myrna Loy, the Only Good Girl in Hollywood; Galileo Goes to Jail by Ronald Numbers; and a number of free books that I got to read on the computer before I knew we got the Kindles.

Oxford University Press has a number of their World Classics volumes available as Kindle editions, so I recently bought, The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, The Pancatantra, Late Victorian Gothic Tales, The First Philosophers, Manon Lescault, The Library of Greek Mythology, and Anselm of Canterbury, the Major Works; all of which I intend to read and comment on.

Further thoughts February 3, 2012. One problem with eBooks, and some other stuff, such as music, is that while older forms of distributing literature, music, and so on have a real, tangible existence, things that are purely electronic, that exist in “the cloud,” don’t. They are not tangible, they are not real. That means that they are not property or chattels, and that it is not really possible to transfer or distribute them outside of the “cloud.” Thomas Jefferson could donate his book collection to the nation to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress, and I can transfer my copy of Ulysses, which is a print copy, to my children, or to anyone else that I choose to. But how do I transfer my copy of The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, which exists only in electronic format on my Kindle, and on my computer? My copies, and I have several, including a French translation, of Ulysses are on paper, and will remain readable even if Random House or Gallimard (or whoever did the French version), goes out of business. Who will maintain a version of the Kindle books, if Amazon goes out of business, or some other technology replaces the current format of eBooks? You can still read stuff written in Linear B, or Sumerian, Sanskrit, or anything else that’s printed. Will you be able to read and pass along books and music that exist in the cloud if technology changes drastically in 10, 20, or 100 years.

Up next, a book about lies concerning the Catholic church.