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Month: September 2011

Amazon Lights Kindle Fire, Nook Color May Get Burned

Amazon Kindle FireIn probably one of the worst kept secrets in tech history, Amazon unveiled its much anticipated new color Kindle today, the Kindle Fire. In addition to the Fire, Amazon is releasing 3 new eInk Kindles, a $79 non-touch model and two touch screen Kindles. One with WiFi and the other 3G.

While this Bloomberg report describes the Kindle Fire as a tablet computer, and much has been made of it being an “iPad killer”, I think Barnes & Noble has more to be concerned about than Apple. At $199, it’s $50 less than the Nook Color and its lack of a camera and microphone is more evidence that the Kindle Fire is more of a response to competitor B & N in filling a hole in the the Kindle lineup from which the Nook Color had garnered some success.

Amazon has an extensive Kindle Fire page that reveals a powerful color eReader prepared to take back any ground lost to the Nook Color in children’s books, magazines, or games like Angry Birds. Like Kindles before it, the Kindle Fire is clearly designed to sell Amazon books and content, including movies and TV shows.

I suspect that Amazon has discovered that iPad folks and Kindle folks are two different markets. They overlap a bit, but not enough to make the Kindle Fire a more general purpose tablet like the iPad. And Amazon’s well developed information infrastructure, which will leveraged in the Fire’s Silk browser, will more than deliver on the promises they’re making content wise. The Kindle Fire is a nuclear powered reader’s tablet. The iPad will feel the heat, but the Nook Color will be the one getting burned in all likelihood.

Of course the game is not over yet. Barnes & Noble is expected to be announcing the next Nooks soon. And I would be surprised if the Nook Color doesn’t see a price drop ahead of the Kindle Fire’s November availability date. So stay tuned!

More info:

A Riggatron Model For Education

Our Fusion Reactor The SunOne of the current controversies in Chicago is Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to add 90 minutes to the school day. The idea is to use the additional time for reading and math. Needless to say, the teachers are not happy with the largely unilateral way this was introduced, ignoring the collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.

As my wife and I discussed this, we quickly realized that adding 90 minutes is not going to solve the most fundamental problem facing the system. How do we get more talented and motivated teachers into the schools? Initiatives such as Teach For America and various alternative certification programs have had some limited success.

They have drawn young, energetic, and motivated people from the colleges and professions into teaching. But most do not remain in teaching beyond their initial 2 year commitment, in the case of Teach For America for example. This should not be surprising given the extraordinary challenges many teachers face in the classroom, and the relatively low pay of teaching relative to other professions that those with great talent and skill might have available to them. In particular, highly talented women have far more opportunities available to them than only a few decades ago when teaching was the best career they could hope for outside of the home.

Most of the effort to abate this situation has been aimed at increasing teacher pay. But the brutal, honest facts are that through our actions, we as a society do not value teaching enough to do that. Teacher pay and benefits are not going to increase enough to attract and retain the best and brightest among us. So what do we do?

Back in the late 70’s, one proposed design for fusion reactors, the Riggatron, was planned around the use of cheap copper wired electromagnets rather than much more expensive superconducting magnets for the plasma containment field. These magnets would have to be closer to the plasma and would only last about 30 days. So the Riggatron was designed so that the magnets could be replaced quickly and easily, like changing a burnt out light bulb.

I think it is better to have a series of great teachers for a couple of years each, than a less talented one for a couple of decades. Why not expand and enhance programs like Teach For America so that there are enough of these young teachers to fill the naturally occuring openings in the schools as teachers retire and move on to other pursuits? Our students would benefit greatly from the wide diversity of talent, skill, and perspective such a system would engender. And I think our society would also benefit from having more of its members experience teaching as a profession.

Let’s Burn Down The Great Library of Alexandria Again!

Google and the Great Library of AlexandriaI first learned of the Great Library of Alexandria as a kid watching Carl Sagan talk about it on his show, Cosmos on my local PBS station. Like Sagan, I was greatly saddened by the story of its destruction and the great setback to human progress that represented. Books were my greatest treasure growing up, and their destruction was almost unthinkable.

In the time of the Great Library, books were written on papyrus and copying one was a painstaking and time consuming, manual process. Today, most new books are digital and it is an increasing simple matter to digitize those that are not. The Google Print Library Project sought to digitize the great works, many of which are out of print, housed in the libraries of some of the most prominent universities in the world. In effect creating a great digital library the likes of which Alexandria could only dream of!

Since beginning the project, Google has been sued by publishers, had an agreement made with said publishers rejected by the courts, and is now being sued by The Authors Guild which may be the last straw for the project. It’s as if the Great Library is being burned down again before it can even be built!

The conflicts all center on copyright and control. The publishers and authors certainly have the right within our legal systems to control their works. But I think they’re missing the larger picture. No one writes a book just so it can languish in the dark on some long forgotten shelf in the basement stacks of a library. Most of us write so that others may share our thoughts and stories. Some of us are even able to make a living doing that, but not most! Books were written long before it became a profitable thing to do.

When a book goes out of print, practically speaking, that author’s voice has been silenced and will soon be forgotten. When books existed solely as physical objects, this was inevitable. A bookstore has to clear space for new books. A library has to rotate older work to archival stacks to make room for more current work researchers access more frequently.

A digital library of eBooks has unlimited shelf space. The works of the great masters of antiquity and those of contemporary writers can be equally accessible. That is, as long as the authors and publishers have the foresight to make their works available in digital format. If an author wants people to read their books, it would seem to be a no brainer, digitize your books. If a publisher wants to profit from the back catalog of works, digitize your books.

But so far efforts to transition to widely available eBooks have been stalled by disagreements that seem bent on maintaining the old business model. Regardless of current disagreements, the future is eBooks. If the old guard won’t get with the program, a new generation of authors and publishers stands ready to replace them.

No one knows how many great works were lost when the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed. But life went on and while the lost works of the old masters were forgotten, in time new masters arose to take their places.

Free eBook: Rolled Up Dimensionality

Rolled Up Dimensionality eBook CoverEveryone likes free stuff! Now through the end of the year, Rolled Up Dimensionality: Short stories from a forgotten life, is free on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod! The book is a collection of SciFi short stories inspired somewhat by the great pulp classics of the 1950’s and 60’s.

If there’s enough interest, the good folks at Amazon and Barnes & Noble may let me drop the price to free for the Kindle and Nook versions as well!

The Walking Dead: Tokyopop May Publish Hetalia vol 3

Since closing down their North American manga publishing operations back in May, it seems that Tokyopop’s manga aspirations are doing anything but resting in peace. The Tokyopop Facebook page is still active and recent news that they may still publish Hetalia volume 3 has brought mixed reactions. The plan calls for a limited retail print release along with digital.

Prior to the shutdown, there had been indications that Tokyopop was going to expand their digital manga offerings. Perhaps this is being revisited in their Hetalia plans. But is it too late? Japanese manga publishers seem to be putting much, if not all, of their digital manga efforts behind the JManga project. Tokyopop would have to figure into this somehow, and it is unknown how much the May shutdown strained relations with their Japanese partners. Most of Tokyopop’s Japanese licences have reverted back to their owners, and some believe that fans would be better served if they gave up any remaining ones so that they may be published by more stable organizations.

Still, love ’em or hate ’em, Tokyopop is a well known brand in the United States. As a manga lover, I’d be very happy to see the return of Tokyopop.

Project Gutenberg Founder Passes Away

A couple of days ago, I read of Michael S. Hart’s passing on the Project Gutenberg site. Up until that point I’d never even heard of him, nor knew the great debt that all of us who enjoy and promote eBooks today owe his pioneering spirit.

When I first got my Nook, some of the first eBooks I loaded on it were from Project Gutenberg. It was one of those Star Trek moments, having the feeling that the sum of human knowledge and thought was at my finger tips. Between Google and Project Gutenberg, I had it all! I think that someday we’ll look back on Michael S. Hart’s invention of eBooks as one of the turning points in the evolution of human society.

Thanks Michael. This site is here because of you.

The Balkanization Of Reading

I finally bought a Kindle this week. I ran into some issues publishing The Great Robot Adventure that could only be fully addressed with the actual hardware in hand. I’m happy to say that the issues have been resolved and the new book is now on sale for Kindle, Nook, and iPad.

My New KindleAt this point, I now have 5 electronic devices on which I can read eBooks. This was certainly not my intent. Ideally, I’d like to be able to read all of my eBooks on a single device, but this will remain only a dream and not something that most people will be able to experience in practice. There are too many strong commercial interests conspiring against one eReader to rule them all.

Right now the iPad comes closest to my ideal universal eReader. It’s perfect for digital comics and manga, and okay for plain text in low light situations where screen glare is not an issue. The iPad has reader apps for all of the major eBook sellers, but recent changes to Apple’s in-app purchasing rules are threatening to bring these apps to an end. While Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others have modified their apps to remove book purchasing links, the Financial Times pulled their app altogether. The Financial Times has replaced their app with an iPad/tablet optimized web site. Amazon has also launched such a site as their Kindle Cloud Reader.

Outside of multipurpose tablets and personal computers, the eReaders fall short simply because all titles are not available on all platforms. The popular ePub format goes a long way towards making this possible, but Amazon does not directly support it on the Kindle. And even if they did, competing DRM schemes would still stand in the way.

At the end of the day, it is not unusual now to find a stack of eReaders, an iPad, and my iPhone piled up next to my MacBook. And of course I still do a lot of reading the old fashioned way in printed books! I think this Balkanization of reading is unavoidable, but as our reading devices continue to get thinner and lighter, it may not be such a bad thing.

Thanks to this competition, stuffing a Nook, Kindle, and iPad into my messenger bag is still less weight than I typically had to carry in college. And I still have room for a printed manga or two!

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