Technology

Suspiciously like a carrot on a stick

My four year old Nook has made it very clear that it’s time to get a new ereader.  I don’t want a Kindle so long as it refuses to support the .epub format, so I took to the Internet to figure out what the best e-ink ereader is, and I discovered that there’s an overwhelming consensus right now that it’s the Kobo Aura One.

And not only do all the reviewers love the Aura One, but it also works really well for me: I’ve been getting my ebooks from Kobo for a while, and also, since Kobo and Overdrive are owned by the same parent company, the Aura One comes with Overdrive integration, so you can borrow library books right from the device.

Sweet! I already know exactly what I want for Christmas.

So on 10 October I went to Kobo’s website to see how much it would cost meLisa and the kids, who are totally the ones who will be buying my Christmas present.  Out of Stock, the site told me.  Will be in stock on 14 October.

Fair enough.  Waited till 14 October, went back to the site, still got the same message.  So I waited till the next day and went back again.  Out of Stock.  Will be in stock on 19 October.

Hmmm.

19 October, same message.  Can you guess what it said by 20 October?

Out of Stock.  Will be in stock on 1 November.

I googled to see what the situation is, but I couldn’t find any mention of there being an Aura One shortage in the USA.  There was a shortage in Canada in September, but judging by Best Buy Canada, that’s been solidly resolved.  (Best Buy USA doesn’t stock the Aura One; in fact, it doesn’t seem that any US retailers do.  Best Buy Canada won’t ship to the US.  Chapters apparently will ship to the US, with the caveat that I’m responsible for “any duties or taxes”.  I don’t think there should be any duties, since we’re both part of NAFTA, but taxes might be a different deal.)

So, guys, I have a question.  Do we know for certain that the Aura One is in fact a thing? For realsies?  Has anyone seen one?

I

Dependence

I got off the plane at Heathrow last Tuesday morning and discovered that my iPhone utterly refused to receive any cell data signal in Britain.

I’m expecting this to be pretty beneficial to my cell phone bill—the last time I was home, for five days in 2011, my Android and I racked up a hundred forty bucks in data roaming charges—but it did mean that during my trip, I was completely cut off from the Internet or iMessage except when I could connect to wifi.

This was mostly fine.  Mostly.

Our hotel was in Borehamwood, just up the street from the Elstree & Borehamwood train station, so on Wednesday my mother and I decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery.  As we left the hotel room, my mum said, “And you know where we need to get off the train?” and I casually said, “Yeah.”

Reader, that was a lie.  What I had was a superficial knowledge of London geography (I can group a list of Central London landmarks into general categories like “this is in Westminster”, “this is in the West End”, “this is in the City”), and a reflexive assumption that, if I get lost, I can check for info on my smartphone.

Except that day I couldn’t.

We got on the train, and I checked the on-board map to figure out where we should get off.  What we should have done was get off at St. Pancras, so as to take the Tube from King’s Cross to Charing Cross, or else get off at Blackfriars to take the Tube to Embankment.  But I knew that the closest two stops we’d get to Trafalgar Square would be City and Blackfriars, so I had us get off at City because the picture of London I had in my head was one in which the City is close enough to Trafalgar Square for us to walk it.

(It’s close enough that I could have walked it, on my own, if I had the familiarity with the geography to know where I was going.  Figuring it out along the way and with my mum in tow, nope.)

So the upshot was that we emerged from the train station into Holborn Viaduct with no blessed idea how to get to the National Portrait Gallery, beyond perhaps, “figure out which direction is west”.

It wasn’t even that harrowing, in the end.  I managed to figure out which of the many bus routes that passed us would head to Trafalgar Square.  (The trickiest part of that was making sure we got on a bus headed in the right direction.)  After visiting the NPG, we decided to head to Bond Street to visit the shop that sells my sister’s jewelry, for which we got directions from the nice lady at the Trafalgar Square Waterstone’s.  (The trickiest part of that was that she told us to follow Cockspur Street and Pall Mall to Regent Street, but it turns out that Regent Street isn’t actually “Regent Street” at its intersection with Pall Mall; it is in fact “Waterloo Place”.)  Then after we got to the end of Bond Street, we turned into Oxford Street for some shopping, before taking the Tube back to King’s Cross and the train home.

But I felt a real disconnect, especially for that first quarter hour after we left City train station and had to figure out which end of the station we’d left from and which bus to take.  When Lisa and I spent a couple of days in Paris in 2009, for the first three or four hours or so, I was really disconcerted by the fact that I was somewhere where the conversations and signage that surrounded me was completely unintelligible to me.  I had a somewhat terrifying sense of isolation and helplessness.  Briefly in London last week, I got something of the same experience, just from not being able to pull up the internet on my phone.

I

Two to the fifth

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Ian, with your birthday falling on a Saturday this year, and with it being only two weeks until the end of the Premier League season, it must have been great to get to spend all morning and early afternoon watching the football.

Well, no.  Saturday was my birthday, and there was indeed lots of Premier League football on, but I didn’t watch any of it.  You see, my sister and her husband will be moving into the area this summer, which means they need to go househunting.  And since it’s tough to househunt in Northern Virginia from their current location in America’s wangFlorida, she decided to send me househunting on Saturday morning instead.  I figured that’s a small price to pay for unlimited free babysitting anytime I want.

Finding Claire a house around here has also kickstarted our own discussions about buying a house ourselves.  Lisa has been saying for years that she wanted to buy a house, but I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that what she really wanted was to complain about how she wants to buy a house.  But she insists that’s not true–so we’re about to start looking in earnest.  I told her that if we do move, though, we need to replace our standard-def television with an HD model.  Not for an improved Media Experience, but because I was looking at the twenty-pound HD TV in our bedroom, and thinking how much easier it would be to move that than it will be the eighty-pound standard-def in the living room.  I don’t ever want to have to move that thing again.

So anyway.  We spent the morning househunting, then went home so I could receive my birthday presents.  Girl got me a pair of Cookie Monster boxer shorts with COOKIE LOVER printed across my arse.  Boy got me a Star Wars-themed edition of the board game Trouble that makes R2-D2 sound effects when you pop that bubble-thing that rolls the dice for you.  And Lisa got me an HD TV.

Yup.  A high-definition television.

And the best part was that it was free because she won it in a raffle.  Last weekend, we’d had our conversation about how I want to replace the eighty-pound standard-def TV with an HD model.  On Wednesday, Lisa spent all day playing in a golf tournament for work.  At the tournament, she got raffle ticked 204, but lost it somewhere.  Then one of her colleagues found ticket 200 on the ground, and gave it to her since she’d lost her proper ticket.  And ticket 200 won the grand prize, the HD TV.  All Lisa’s friends told her she shouldn’t tell me that she didn’t pay for it, as that would make it less special or something, I guess?  Whatever–they clearly don’t know either of us at all.  It being free makes it way more special than it could have been otherwise.

So then, since I’m a dad and since someone in the household–whether me or anyone else–had received a major piece of electronics as a gift, I spent the next hour hooking it up, before it was time to miss the last Premier League match of the day so that we could go to Boy’s soccer match.  Granted, four-a-side U-6 soccer isn’t quite Premier League football, but I suppose you can’t beat a match that has twelve goals in 32 minutes of play.  (Literally can’t beat it, as it finished a 6-6 draw.)

Then we headed to Best Buy, to pick up some HDMI cables and a Blu-Ray player.  The HD TV has only one composite hookup, meaning, as I reasonably explained to Lisa, that we can’t hook both the Wii and the DVD player up to it at the same time, so we’ve replaced the DVD player with a Blu-Ray player, which we can hook up to the new TV by one of its three HDMI ports.

I got back out to the car with all that stuff and found Lisa asleep in the driver’s seat and Boy asleep behind her, so rather than wake them, I got Girl out of the car and walked with her up the road to the used bookshop.  There I discovered that they’ve eliminated their Biography section in favour of an expansion of Romance, and I picked Lisa up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey (happy birthday to her).  Then we headed back to the car.

Where we discovered that Lisa had kept the air conditioning and the radio on the whole time she’d been asleep, so when she tried to start the car, the battery had died completely.  Lisa therefore popped the hood and stood next to the car, and, since she’s a woman, within two minutes someone had pulled up next to her asking if we needed a jump.  Actually, a startlingly good looking 25-year-old man in a gleaming silver BMW had pulled up next to her and asked if she needed a jump.

So we got the car going again, but we needed to drive around for a while rather than going home.  We therefore elected to drive down to Fredericksburg, 35 miles away; that way, we could go to either Sonic or Steak and Shake for dinner.  Actually, it was my birthday, so we stopped at both Sonic and Steak and Shake.  I also popped into the comic book shop next door to Sonic, as I always do, and looked at their selection of Doctor Who toys and t-shirts.  They had some nice stuff, as they always do, and it was exorbitantly priced, as it always is.  Particularly hard to resist was the Lego Cyberman playset, which Boy would have loved, but it was $80 for what was maybe a $30 Lego set (and that’s even accounting for the fact that Lego sets generally cost about half again what they’re worth to begin with).

And then we were home, and I was sticking HDMI cables into our new TV to connect it with the cable box and the Blu Ray player.  All in all, not the best birthday I’ve ever had, but a lively and eventful one.  And one that brought with a new HD television!  Followed by the discovery that the new HD television was free!  So in the end, I can’t complain.

I

Encyclopaedia

Encyclopaedia Britannica is ceasing publication of its print edition after a 244 year run.  Britannica’s been around longer than the Declaration of Independence, and longer than the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  And now, in its original format, it won’t be.

I’m not going to bemoan that change.  It’s a natural progression.  You don’t last 244 years without making accommodation for a changing world.  Britannica began publication in 1768 in the country from which it takes its name, but now it’s an American concern–more than that, it’s a Chicago concern.  Where was Chicago in 1768?  The encyclopaedia itself is older than the city it calls home.

I hope Britannica lasts another 244 years, if it can maintain the same mission it’s had for the last two and a half centuries, of making available to us a compilation and condensation of human knowledge, accessibly presented.  And if it does, then within a generation, no one will care that it used to be on paper, and now it’s not–anymore than Canadians walk into the Bay or Zellers and think to themselves, “Hmm, and to think, back in the seventeenth century, this is the company that was chartered by the King to administer English colonisation of northern Ontario and Quebec!”

I myself made the digital switch with Britannica about ten years ago, when Lisa bought me the complete Encyclopaedia in CD.  It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received–but it was one of the best gifts because of the love I’ve always had for the print edition.

When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had a wonderful public library–I never realised how wonderful until we moved to Florida and the ones that replaced it proved to be … lacking.  And one of the best things about this library was its complete set of both the Britannica micropaedia and the macropaedia.

Man, that macropaedia.  So much of who I am, so much of the knowledge I love, I first found in that encyclopaedia.  I vividly remember the Graeco-Roman civilisation article being over a hundred pages long.  How many words are on a printed page of Britannica?  A thousand?  Two thousand?  Three thousand?  That article must have been as long as any novel I’d read at the time I worked my way through it.

So I don’t mourn the death of the printed edition, and I don’t complain that we’re now moving into a world where Britannica can deliver all the knowledge it’s always delivered, but paperlessly.  But I do take this opportunity to express my gratitude that I had the paper edition in my childhood, and for all the paper edition gave me.

I

Words yesterday: 2459
Words so far: 98,636

Time spent writing: 12.30-3pm
Reason for stopping: End of naptime
Darling: He couldn’t stop himself from crying out at every blow, but he was so spent now that each cry came only as a pathetic, mewling whimper.
Tyop: They went a hundred and eight degrees around the building.g
New words today: oily, paddock, jackboot
Words that boggled Word: heavybrowed, afterwards

Kindling

In about a year, I’ll have a novel published* both in a physical edition and as an ebook. It’s entirely possible–nae, even likely–that the ebook will sell more copies than the physical book. (Always assuming, of course, that we sell any copies, and my fear of that isn’t going to go away entirely someone actually does buy a copy of the book.)

In (tentatively) summer 2013, there’ll be a second book, and whatever the sales ratio was for the first book, for the second book it’ll be even more in favour of the ebook. And if I’m lucky enough to be bringing out book number six or seven or eight in, say, 2025, it’s entirely possible by then that the model will be almost entirely devoted to ebooks, with either no physical edition or an insignificant print run for a niche collectors’ market.

I’ve never read an ebook. I’ve never held an e-reader. I’ve considered getting one for a long time, not least because the testimony of people who own them seems to be overwhelmingly positive–including people who were already avid readers before their e-readers came along. I think I’d want them just for fiction, and perhaps biography–their principle attraction, to me, is that they’d be more comfortable to read in bed. I mainly purchase nonfiction books for reference purposes, and I wouldn’t want to lose the ability to flip through their pages when I look something up.

The main thing that had held me up until now was the lack of a universal format. We’re all familiar with format wars from Blu-Ray/HD-DVD all the way back to VHS/Beta. I’m not interested in falling victim to the same thing.

But now, I feel like my hand is getting forced. If I’m going to be writing for a primary market, I feel it’d surely be a good idea for me to have some actual experience of that market. I’d be sceptical of an author who had never read a printed book, only listened to audio books. Of a playwright who’d never seen a play, only read their scripts.

So I guess I’m soliciting input. Do people prefer the Kindle? The Nook? The Sony Reader? I’m only looking for a tool with which to read; I’m not interested in displacing my smart phone or my iPod. As a Barnes and Noble loyalist, and an Android user, my all-things-being-equal inclination is toward the Nook. But all things aren’t equal: for one thing, I feel confidence that Amazon will still be around in ten years, but I can’t say the same about Barnes and Noble.

Thoughts?

I

*How many times can I link to that post? I think we’re going to find out.

DVD

As I remind my readers every month, I’m in the process of assembling my music library for my iPod. I keep a list of all the songs I’ve yet to own, and every month I spend a certain amount of money getting songs from that list.

I used to do the same thing with DVDs. I have a list of all the TV shows and movies I want to have at my fingertips whenever I want to watch them, and every month I would buy two or three of them. But then I stopped.

I believe strongly that an artist has the right to be paid for the enjoyment of their art. “I want it but I don’t want to spend the money that costs” is not a sufficient justification to me for stealing that art.

But I’m only willing to pay a fair price, and it occurred to me that DVDs simple aren’t priced fairly. In ten years, they’re going to be as obsolete as CDs. It’s going to be as universal to download our movies as it is to download our music. (It’s pretty commonplace now.) So I’m no longer willing to pay $20 for a physical copy of a movie that should only cost me $10 to get online.

This doesn’t mean I download my movies now, either legally or illegally. One of the things about coming to a decision not to buy DVDs anymore was that it forced me to consider whether or not buying movies at all was worth the expense, and I decided that I really don’t watch any given movie enough to justify how much it costs to download it. And the thing about downloads is, if I decide there really is a movie I want to watch right now, I can just go get it instantly, rather than driving to the shop (and potentially having to wait six hours for it to open, since I’ve decided I want to watch the movie at 2AM).

The one exception is Doctor Who. I’ve started buying Doctor Who DVDs again, right now at the rate of three a month. This came from a trip to Barnes & Noble, where I came across all the Who DVDs that had been released since I stopped buying DVDs two years ago. Thumbing through them brought back to me how much fun it had been to watch all that Classic Who for the first time in fifteen years. And besides, The Boy and I have such fun watching the new purchases early in every month.

I

OpenOffice

Anyone out there have any experience with OpenOffice.org? I’m thinking about trying it out and wondering what others have found. My main concern is with OpenOffice Writer, and with using it professionally. Am I going to any issues with sending OpenOffice documents to my agent, or to publishers or editors? Any experience anyone has to share is great.

I

Emerges, blinking, into the light

Margaret of FranceIt always amazes me how, when I’ve spent the last weeks or months immersed in the world of some video game, neglecting everything else in my life, I’ll wake up one morning and it’s just … gone. Time to move on.

I’ve spent the past six weeks spending most of every day playing Football Manager 08, first as the manager of FC Nantes (a Ligue 2 championship, two French League Cups and a French championship in four years) then of Halifax Town (promotion from the Conference to League One in three seasons, plus the FA Trophy, Setanta Shield and League Two championship).

But today I seem to be done, and it’s time to get back to the real world. To reading blogs and Twitter. And email. I don’t think I’m quite ready to sit down and starting writing yet, but I’m ready to do something other than manage an underfunded football club. Which might mean a surfeit of blog posts over the next few days, about our trip to the circus on Boy’s birthday, or our trip to Romano’s Maccaroni Grill on my birthday (the day before yesterday), or about my mother’s visit.

Besides, there’s stuff to do. Train tickets to book and Oyster Cards to purchase. And I really should try to figure out what that smell is in the kitchen.

Today I ordered plug adapters, so I can plug my laptop into a British wall socket. It really turned out to be much harder to find that sort of thing than it should have been–neither Target nor Best Buy had suitable ones in the store, nor, so far as I could figure out, do Target, Best Buy, Radio Shack or Sears have them online.

I

Props to Amazon

On a Clear Night by Missy HigginsSince we’re always prone to share poor customer service stories, I always think it’s important to share good ones, too.

One of the recommendations I’ve had from playing the Alphabet Game has been from Diane, for Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins. I’d never heard of Higgins before, but after giving her a listen I added her two albums to our to-buy list.

Today Amazon included her second album on their Friday Five–an offer where five albums get offered for five dollars apiece every Friday. But when I clicked on the link to buy the album, I discovered that, despite the advertisement, it was still priced at its regular price, $9.99. The other four of the Friday Five had had their prices set to $5, just not this one.

Diane let me know that she’d notified Amazon of this via their customer service form, and had got a note back letting her know that she’d be credited back $5.97 (which is weird, both because $5.97 isn’t really an amount relevant to any part of the discussion, and because Diane hadn’t actually bought the album. I’m going to assume they ended up not paying her six bucks just for noticing them of a pricing discrepancy on their website.) So I figured what the heck, bought the album at $9.99 and then notified Amazon that I’d been overcharged.

A while later I got a note back, agreeing with me that I’d been charged $4.99 more than I should have. Due to the nature of the MP3 download purchase process, I was told, a partial refund was impossible, so they were simply refunding me the entire $9.99.

Now, I know that Amazon had the album prominently displayed on their Friday Five promotion, but the album’s actual page also made it quite clear that it was still priced at $9.99. So if a partial refund was impossible, Amazon could still have made the perfectly legitimate argument that I shouldn’t have gone ahead and spent ten dollars and that there was nothing they could do. I think it’s pretty cool that they didn’t.

In the interim, I’d also noticed that today Amazon has the Who album Who Are You on sale for just $1.99, so I went ahead and bought that. That means that today, I bought 25 songs from Amazon (26 if you count the free song that comes with installing their MP3 downloader) for $1.99–or eight cents a song. Amazon made me very happy today.

By the way, the price point on the Missy Higgins album has now been corrected to $5.

I

Technologic considerations

William IIMe? Use my blog as a to-do list for our trip to England? Never.

There are three electronic devices I’m tied to–the phone, the iPod and the laptop.

The phone. A call to T-Mobile should get the phone enabled for international service. We’ll need to buy an adaptor for the charger, of course, but that’s easily taken care of. I wonder if my phone can charge through its USB cord.

I am curious what to do about Twitter, since (especially if I’ve got no laptop) I plan on twittering quite freely from the phone. Can I just use the normal American text number? Do I have to prepend the US international code to it? Do I use the UK number instead?

The iPod. If we don’t take the laptop, I’ll just buy a wall charger for the iPod. A US wall charger is $40 from the Apple Store, whereas an international wall charger–with adaptors for America, Britain, Europe and Australia–is just ₤23 (or around 32 bucks). What I’m actually most worried about with the iPod is keeping it charged for the initial trip. We have nine hours between liftoff from Reagan National and landing at Heathrow, then a two and a half hour train trip to Durham or Gateshead. I’d like to make pretty liberal use of the iPod during that trip, but it seems like potentially a tough haul for its battery.

Which brings us to the laptop. Vitally important for two purposes–the word processor and the internet. I assume that once we move down to Shenley and Hungerford, I’ll be able to use my uncle and aunt’s computers, respectively, but that won’t be an option our first week, at a hotel in the North East–which is exactly when I expect I’ll have the most time to fill on my own, with Lisa and Boy asleep in the hotel room. But I’m not sure if four days in the North East justify the hassle of bringing my laptop all the way with us to England. The closest internet cafe to the Gateshead Marriott is in the High Street, which is a twenty minute bus ride away.

Anyone have any thoughts on the laptop?

I

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