Kindle in Canada: first impressions

11 12 2009

The Kindle and my first e-book purchase

Despite Farley‘s well-reasoned arguments on why buying the Kindle is a bad idea, the Inspector Gadget within me succumbed to the temptation and ordered the #1 bestselling, most-wished-for, and most gifted item from Amazon. My brain simply stops working and reverts to its basic geek mode when it comes to new electronic toys.

“New”, of course, is relative. Following the well-walked path set by the Chumby, the iPhone, Hulu, Pandora and Google Voice, the Kindle was also off-limits for Canadians until very recently, despite being available in 100 other countries, including Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Albania. I don’t mean any disrespect to those 3 countries, the point here is that we are next door neighbours to Amazon’s headquarters, so it puzzles me why it’s easier to get legal wrinkles solved in other continents than here.

Even when the Kindle finally arrived in Canada, on November 17, it was not fully featured: web browsing and blogs are not available North of the US. Not even the iPhone Kindle app is up for Canuck’s grabs yet, unless one’s willing to be a bit, err, adventurous. But we Canadians can always get the KindleCandle app for 0.99:

While you wait for the Kindle App in Canada...

Ok, end of rant.

A few months from now, when the elusive Apple tablet is finally revealed, I’ll regret this purchase, but for now, I’m actually very pleased with it.

THE GOOD

  • The screen is very readable, much better than I expected. I read about the e-ink a million times, played with the Sony e-reader for a few minutes, but only when you go through several pages on an e-reader you start noticing why it’s better than your laptop screen.
  • Battery life is really good. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the iPhone.
  • It’s much easier to carry and handle than a regular hard-cover. If you are a subway warrior, you know the importance of being able to hold a book and move to the next page using the same hand.
  • The dictionary feature is handy for folks like me, whose English vocabulary came mostly from reading Wolverine and Spider-Man.
  • I could spend days browsing Wikipedia in the Kindle.
  • Amazon finally gave in to a no-hassle PDF support. Competition, we love you.
  • Being able to clip excerpts and annotate your favourite paragraphs change the reading experience. No more dog ears or chicken scratch.
  • Ability to download sample chapters of books for free.
  • Text to speech is a nice touch, but I don’t see myself using it much.

THE BAD

  • The contrast of “e-printed” text and the gray background is not as good as the old black text on white paper.
  • The screen is smaller than it needs to be. That physical keyboard is a waste of real estate.
  • PDF reading is still poor: you can’t zoom in or annotate.
  • Colours, or lack there of. It has that first generation iPod feel.
  • The first 2 books I tried to buy were not available in the Kindle store: “The Wisdom of Crowds” and “The Cult of the Amateur”.

THE DREAM (or: is that what they call the iTablet?)

  • Touch screen, no buttons, gestures
  • Colour
  • Comic book viewing
  • Web 2.0 features: sharing reading lists, recommendations, annotations with my network
  • Bookshelf-like interface
  • Voice recording for commentary/annotations

In summary, I give the Kindle thumbs up for now, at least until the next Apple event, when Farley will I-told-you-so me.

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Iomega Screenplay Pro HD Multimedia Drive

11 12 2009

Well, that’s a mouthful. I first saw it at my friend’s Daniel Dystyler apartment last month, and after some research, I decided to bite the bullet and got this from Amazon yesterday:

Iomega Screenplay Pro

It’s no Apple TV, but it does something that I couldn’t find in any of the mainstream multimedia drives: record TV. My PVR is close to capacity, and using a DVD recorder is just too awkward. It’s been only a day with it so far, so take my first impressions with a huge grain of salt. Here’s the just of it:

PROS

  • 1 TB of storage!
  • Plugs into your home network (to do it wirelessly, you need to buy a WiFi Adapter). This means you can easily transfer files and browse photos in your home computers.
  • Composite video input allow you to convert old VCR tapes.
  • According to the user manual, you can play back a movie from a DVD folder just like playing back a DVD disc. I haven’t tested that yet, but if it works, it’s a great feature.

CONS

  • It does not support the H.264 video format used by iPods and the Apple TV.
  • The remote sucks – pardon the language, but there’s no other way to describe it. It’s small, cumbersome and the IR signal is very weak – reminds me of the Apple remote, the one that Steve does not use during his presos.
  • User interface is poorly designed.
  • Can’t record HDTV (but I didn’t find any other product that can do that).

If you’re feeling brave, there’s even a wiki with some advanced hacks you may want to try.





Individually smarter, collectively dumber?

8 12 2009

In my first corporate job back in Brazil, I was part of a large cohort of interns who end up all being hired together. We were young and well-connected, and always on top of everything that was happening in the company, from official stuff to the proverbial grapevine telegraph. Rumour conversations used to start like this: “I’ve heard from 3 different sources that…” My pal Alexandre Guimaraes used to joke that none of us had 3 different sources as we all shared the same connections.

Likewise, I often hear from my Twitter fellows that their RSS feed reader is now abandoned, as most of the interesting online things they find now comes from their tweeps. A quick experiment seems to confirm that trend. Here are the results of a Twitter search for “twitter feed reader“:

Search results for "twitter feed reader"

Search results for "twitter feed reader"

In my recent re-read of The Wisdom of Crowds, the following excerpt called my attention (highlight is mine):

(…) the more influence a group’s members exert on each other, and the more personal contact they have with each other, the less likely it is that the group’s decisions will be wise ones. The more influence we exert on each other, the more likely it is that we will believe the same things and make the same mistakes. That means it’s possible that we could become individually smarter but collectively dumber.

The first time I read that was many years before Twitter even existed, so it didn’t mean much to me. Now I can relate: I do feel that Twitter is making me individually smarter, as I can quickly consume a whole lot of info from news sources, geeks, NBA players, celebrities, friends and others. I find the Twitscoop cloud in TweetDeck a particularly good way to find what’s going on around the globe right now.

Twitscoop cloud

I used to see that cloud as a visualization of our collective intelligence. But perhaps that cloud is actually something much more humbling: the visualization of our own echo chamber, our herd’s brain. By being so intensely connected, we may be losing one of the most basic conditions identified by Surowiecki’s for a crowd to be wise: independence (the other 2 are diversity and decentralization).

Should we all stop using Twitter and Facebook now? Of course not. But maybe we should invest a bit more of our time going after the unusual, the unpopular, the offline, the old and the out-of-fashion. The core is boring, and the fringe is where real innovation and change tend to appear first.





Twilight: New Moon – Interactive Displays in Brazil

7 12 2009

I started writing this post a month ago, but stopped as I did not have access to the Internet while in Brazil, so pardon the taste of yesterday’s news here.

Unlike Bernie, I don’t have a teenager daughter, so I have just a very fuzzy idea about what The Twilight Saga is all about. But it doesn’t take a Roger Ebert or Peter Travers to know that it’s at least as popular in Brazil as it is in Canada and the US: its second installment ranked as the top box office in Brazil this year. Taking the subway in São Paulo 2 weeks before the opening of New Moon, it was hard to miss this eye-catching, vending-machine-like, err, device:

Twilight Interactive Display in São Paulo

Here are some more pictures, in case Twilight is your thing:

The main feature was the embedded camera, that allowed you to take a picture of yourself and edit it to transform yourself into a werewolf or a vampire. Your picture then became part of the gallery for all to see. No, I did not try it, or at least that’s what I claim 🙂 . It actually looked a lot like a very big version of an iPhone app, except that you could not shake it to start over. You could also watch movie trailers and download an app to your cell via Bluetooth.

The company behind it was a Brazilian “digital interaction agency”, Ginga. I know the explanation above is as clear as mud, so here’s their own video showing how it works:

How effective is this new media outlet? Hard to tell. But they used a 1.0 version of their displays for the first movie of the series, back in December 2008, and Ginga claims the following:

This solution was integrated with the whole digital campaign: website, banners, and a strong community created for the fans in Brazil.

RESULTS

Over 4.5 million people reached by the subway campaign over a month.

One of the top 10 box-offices in 2008 in Brazil.

Over 180,000 content downloads via Bluetooth.

Not too shabby, eh? Here’s the video of their first version (which, by the way, looks much more impressive than the second one):

P.S.: If you see me blogging next time about Hannah Montana, it’s a sign that the end of the world is coming.





Business Books: The cover vs. the core

7 12 2009

For a person who deeply loves Biology and keeps blogging about Darwin, I have to confess: I never read The Origin of Species, only parts of it. There, I said it. I actually tried to go through it a few times, the last attempt being via Stanza on my iPhone:

Stanza for the iPhone: Origin of Species

Heck, I haven’t even skimmed Origin‘s Cliff’s Notes (that’s just a figure of speech: there’s none, actually) so you can say that my knowledge of what Darwin said or thought is like second-hand smoking or back-seat driving: mostly hear-say. Some saving grace are those 5 years spent at University studying Biology. Furthermore, I would guess that most Biology students (at least in Brazil) have never seen a copy of Origin either.

On a smaller scale, many of us have a similar approach with business books. We have not read most of them – well except maybe Sacha did 🙂 , but we often have an opinion about them, typically based on indirect evidence.

I usually don’t go through the same book twice – life is short and time is at a premium, but I recently made an exception with The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) and The Long Tail (2006), two books that have been much maligned by supposedly championing the advent of new business models that never materialized or that failed to deliver at the promise.

The Long Tail and The Wisdom of Crowds

The Long Tail and The Wisdom of Crowds

Their respective authors even had faceoffs of sorts with the excellent Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point and Blink fame, one friendly, the other not so much. By the way, if you are unfamiliar with Slate’s Book Club feature, you are in for a treat. It’s kind of The Next Supermodel for the written world. I know that doesn’t sound very enticing, but the series is really good.

The major problem I see with both books is not their content: it’s their covers. Both books are fairly balanced in their core and depict scenarios showing both supporting evidence and possible shortcomings for their arguments. But their covers are not as nuanced. Why the future of business is selling less of more and Why the many are smarter than the few, besides sounding like catch phrases written by the same marketing wiz, are hardly shy in the over-promising department.

My learning going through the re-reading process is that I have a much better appreciation for the content of these books now that they don’t have all the buzz around them. It’s like listening to popular songs from the past years after they fell in oblivion. You can more clearly see their actual merits and limitations, without being so influenced by the media. So, if you haven’t yet, give them a try, you may still learn a thing or two, no matter if you believe in their premises or not.

I can’t help but think that, if The Origin of Species was published today, instead of the dull sub-title The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, it would bring something like: Why everything you knew about life will change forever.

The Origin of Species, original cover

The Origin of Species, original cover (Darwin Online)





Introducing my sister, “a síndica”

6 12 2009

In Brazil, the vast majority of the condo buildings operate as housing co-operatives, where one of the residents is elected as the head of the administration for terms of up to two years, a role known as “síndico”. It’s a true pain in the neck to be a síndico in Brazil, as the problems of all your neighbours magically become your problem too. But at least for one day every year, their hard work gets some recognition: November 30 is “síndico‘s day” in Brazil.

Much to my surprise, a few years ago I learned that my sister, Ana Cristina, was elected síndica of her condo in Curitiba. And re-elected once or twice since, meaning that she’s doing something right (or wrong, depending on your perspective).

I remember that, as typical teenagers siblings, we spent most of our time finding ways to annoy each other: one day she threw away my whole comics collection, the other day I dismantled her study desk with a big hammer. When the Schürmann family made the news in the 80’s by spending 10 years on a sailboat around the globe, I used to think: these guys clearly don’t have the sister I have, otherwise that trip would not last a week.

But aging makes us wiser (or more amnesic), and we get along very well now. And I was very glad to see her in the regional newscast last week, described as “having the Asian traits of patience and organization” 😛 . (her part starts just before the 2-minute mark. Video is in Portuguese and not embedded, sorry…)





Blog, Interrupted

6 12 2009

A few weeks ago, in a phone conversation with Marcelo Martins, he jokingly commented on the poor abandoned state of this blog: “the ‘Bamboo raft’ has drifted away, and is now in the middle of nowhere” 🙂 . Indeed.


Photo by Flickr user elieme, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic

But this silence was not due to the lack of inspiration: it was a mix of being busy, adjusting to a new work routine, and plain laziness, of course.  A year after blogging was proclaimed passé by Paul Botin, I still feel the urge to blog several times a day, even knowing that there’s a good chance that nobody is listening (or reading it). I blog, therefore I am sounds right to my ears, even in a Twitter world.

Following the lead of Bénédicte Delachanal, who’s been good in her one blog post every day quest this December, I decided to steer this raft back to the civilization (or to a handful of readers, more precisely). And seeing a new post by Jennifer Okimoto in my reader today after months of absence was just the extra push I needed 🙂 .

As the delusional Buzz Lightyear would say: To infinity, and beyond! (crossing fingers here hoping that all this euphoria will take me at least till the next blog post).