Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on Hugo (the movie)

Okay, there's this kid who lives in the walls of a big train station in Paris in the 1920's (or it night be 1930's). And there's this old guy who keeps a toy shop in the train station.  That's how the movies Hugo starts, but really, it's not what the movie is about. I knew this movie was made from a heavily-illustrated kid's book called The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, but what I didn't understand until I saw it, was why Martin Scorsese would want to direct a movie made from that book.

The reason (I think) is because this is a movie about movies, about why people make them and why people go to them. What director wouldn't want to make that movie?

But it's a lovely story, beautifully told, and it would be especially nice to see with kids, because it's also about families and why we all need them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday/Holiday special!

Just in time for Cyber Monday, a free ebook sale! The Sixth Discipline is now free in iBooks and free in Sony ebookstore.  No Safe Haven, the sequel to the first book, is now on sale for only 99¢ in iBooks and Sony ebookstore.  This sale will last through the end of the year, so get them now!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindle connectivity: 3G or not 3G, that is the question!

Wireless delivery is one of the two features that made the Kindle take off. The Sony Reader was first to the marketplace with some very nice e-ink hardware, but you had to a) download the books to the PC, b) connect the Reader to the computer with a cable, and then c) copy the books to the Reader. With a Kindle, you didn't even have to own a computer, let alone do a, b, and c. Add in Amazon's ebook selection and you have the secret of the Kindle's early success.

As a long time Kindle owner, I often get asked by folks looking to buy a Kindle or a Nook, "Do I really need the 3G option or can I get by with just wifi?" I got my brand new Kindle Touch with 3G because once you have had it, there's no going back. I compare it to an ice maker; once you have one, you're not filling those little trays yourself. But wifi actually offers superior speed. "Book in 60 seconds?" With wifi, it's more like 6 seconds. Wifi use also drains the battery less than 3G.

The problem with wifi is, it's not everywhere. Or in some cases, it's there but it won't work. My Kindle can connect to the wide open network maintained by the retail establishments near where I work, but it won't connect to the secure network provided by the company I work for. I've also had problems with not being able to connect to some hotel networks, even after trying every setting on the security-type options. Fortunately, I had 3G to fall back on.

Questions for potential ereader buyers:

  1. Do you have wifi at home? If not, I would go with the 3G right there. What's the use of having an ereader if you can't download the next book in the series while sitting in bed at midnight?
  2. How geeky are you?  If you know enough to recognize that WEP and WPA are types of wifi security, you will probably be okay with tinkering with the Kindle's wifi settings and can get by without 3G.
  3. How much do you travel?  If you're buying a Kindle to save packing books, the 3G is a safer bet.  If you don't travel often, and plan to read mostly at home with your own wifi available, you will probably be okay without 3G.

An important note: With the Kindle Keyboard, you can use 3G to browse the web. It is clunky as all get out, but you can do it.  With the Kindle Touch, using 3G to connect to the web allows only limited access; you can shop at Amazon, including downloading books you buy from them, and read Wikipedia, but you can't browse the wide-open web. That's because Amazon doesn't charge for 3G access, except when you use it to email documents (including non-Amazon ebooks) to your Kindle.  In those instances, you pay a per megabyte fee (I believe its 15¢/MB). Otherwise, the only charge for 3G is the initial increased cost for the device itself. I'm sure that since the touch screen makes browsing the web so much easier, Amazon doesn't want to rack up a huge bill for 3G use that doesn't get them anything.  If you want an ereader that's also a 3G web browser, you will have to settle for a Kindle Keyboard.

Also note that the new Kindle Fire does not come with 3G at all, so if you opt for the Fire, you forgo the 3G as well as the e-ink.

It may seem confusing, but really it's great to have options. eReaders are like pantyhose; one size does not fit all!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Remembering Anne McCaffrey

It's being widely reported that Anne McCaffrey has passed away at the age of 85. She was a wonderful writer and storyteller.  Her Pern books fired a lot of young people's imaginations. They could be read as fantasy or as science fiction, while The Ship Who Sang was pure science fiction and made a wonderful comment about the kind of connections two humans can make. Speculative fiction is not a huge genre. Even the big name writers usually go to a convention or two every year, which is one reason cons are a lot like family reunions. In our little family, she will be missed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Using Collections on the Kindle Touch

The Kindle has had the "Collections" feature for a while, but frankly it was much more cumbersome to use on the Kindle Keyboard (K3) than on the new Kindle Touch (KT).  Collections are a very useful feature when you have hundreds of ebooks on your device.  Some people call them folders, but they're more like Labels in GMail. With a folder, you pick one place to put the book, whereas with a label, you can apply as many labels as you like to a book. This is great because you can a) label multi-genre books with as many genres as needed, and b) apply additional sorting schemes, like "To be read" or "Favorites."

I had already set up a bunch of collections on my K3. Collections are device-specific, but Amazon lets you import them from one device to another.  As their directions specify, it's important that you first put the already-labeled books onto the device before you import the collections.  Otherwise the books won't have labels when you bring them over later,

My collections had gotten very out of date because it was a more work to add books to a collection on the K3, using the 5-way controller to move the cursor.  Most of my newer books had no labels. Ergo, after I had imported all the books I wanted onto the KT, I imported my K3 collections and then went through and edited them to add books.  This is so easy on the KT! You simply:

  1. Sort the home screen by collections (I am not positive, but I think you need at least one collection on the device for this to be an option).
  2. Press the collection you want for about two seconds; this gives you a menu that lets you select "Add books."
  3. This will then list all your books; you can change the sort order by tapping the current sort order ("by title" or "most recent" or "by author"), just like you do on a normal home screen.  I recommend By Author when labeling by genre, as authors tend to write in one genre and it makes selecting all their books easier.
  4. There will be a small box on the right side of the screen which will have a check mark for all books labelled with that collection (The collection name appears at the top, in case you get confused). 
  5. Tap the box to add or delete a label for that collection.
  6. Navigation is just like the home screen; finger swipe up and down to advance or tap the page number at the top right to specify a page to jump to. 
  7. Use the "Done" button  to store changes to that collection.

A nice sort of safety net is to sort the home screen by collections and scroll to the end.  Any unlabeled items (i.e., items not in at least one collection) appear by title after the last collection.  Tapping a collection name opens that collection and displays a list of only those books.

I know some folks who only keep the books they're reading on their device. I know Amazon keeps everything in an archive, but for me, half the appeal of an ereader is having my library in my purse. The collections are now a very easy way to impose order on that library.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kindle Touch: A Quick Review

So far I love the Kindle Touch! The on-screen keyboard is very easy to use, much better than the Kindle physical keyboard, especially the one on the K3, which has no number row (that's why my old one in the picture above has stickers above the letters). Typing on the KT is very like using the iPad keyboard where you have a letters-only keyboard and a numbers and punctuation keyboard, and tapping the same key toggles from one to the other. You tap the shift key before pressing a letter to upper case, and that makes the display of the letters change to upper case, which is really nice.

One-handed reading is very easy! Paging forward and back works from a single tap on the left or right side of the screen, or you can finger swipe across the page. I had to ask on the Kindle forums to find out how to jump forward and backward a chapter at time, but it's very easy; you just swipe up and down instead of horizontally.

Text-to-speech sounds exactly the same, but once you turn it on, a menu for it stays on the screen so it is dead easy to pause, change the gender of the voice or the reading speed, or exit.

The book menu has a font key, but you can also use pinch and zoom gestures while you're reading a book to make text larger or smaller. This works in the browser, too, although the browser itself only works in WiFi mode (except for reading Wikipedia).

And really, the thing is just so pretty! As you can see in the photo, the KT is not really that much smaller than the K3, but it seems so much more compact and easier to hold.  The screen savers are lovely! I did not get the ad-laden version and now I am especially glad. The screen savers are images that could be photographs or line drawings but most of them picture either writing or instruments for writing— pens, pencils, calligraphy brush strokes, and cold type.

I told my husband that he's now the proud owner of a Kindle Keyboard, because I'm keeping this one!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holiday sale for two science fiction novels!

It's not quite Thanksgiving but already there are Christmas decorations and geegaws in the stores, so I am starting my holiday sale. From now until the end of the year, I am making The Sixth Discipline a free ebook on Smashwords, and I am pricing No Safe Haven at only 99¢. The newest book Tribes will stay at $2.99 for now, although it will go on sale some time in the new year.

I believe this price change will be pushed through to other platforms such as iBooks and Sony sometime soon, but I am not sure how long it takes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley is coming to my Kindle!

I am a big Jane Austen fan, and also a fan of the mysteries by P.D.  James, so I was really happy to see that this book, Death Comes to Pemberleywas coming out on December 6, 2011.

There have been countless sequels, prequels, alternate tellings and mash-ups of the work of Jane Austen in general, and Pride and Prejudice in particular, but I am looking forward to this one for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the murder victim is Lizzie's nefarious brother-in-law, Mr. Wickham. Talk about just deserts!  For another, I think James' style should adapt well to the formality of Austen's period. And frankly, I think Austen's work better suited to mystery adaptions than to horror. I confess I never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombiesit has zero appeal to me.  Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey worked well as a regency-era fantasy, but then it wasn't a mash-up because the entire plot was original (and it was fantasy, not horror).

Thanks to the pre-order button, I can sit back and relax and know DCtP will arrive as soon it is available. Although come to think of it, I will need to remind myself to be sure I turn the wireless on. I kind of wish there was a way to turn on wifi access separate from 3G so I could leave it on without killing the battery, but right now if a 3G-enabled Kindle doesn't find a network it knows, it will connect with 3G.  And since this date is well after my new Kindle Touch will ship, I will be reading Death Comes to Pemberley on that!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Speculation

Speculation by Edmund Jorgensen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is mystery of sorts-- no murder, but a disappearance-- and of course the big mystery of "what's in the envelope?" It's also got some of the "why are we here?" sort of questions in it. The protagonist is a professor of philosophy, so it's no surprise that a lot of the dialog focuses on philosophical questions like "Is there a God and can you prove he exists?"

The characters are very well drawn, each with backstory and motivations of his/her own. I especially loved the old lady who lived alone and narrated everything she did. She wasn't a major character but she illustrated how well the author did at creating three dimensional characters.

I really liked the cover, too. But I won't reveal the ending. That would ruin everything!

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