I do not want what this product offers

An ad just came on, asking me “Want one-of-a-kind eyes?”
No, really, I’d prefer to keep my eyes two of a kind. Thank you.

Published in: on February 22, 2011 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment  

My thoughts on the Nook

Elsewhere, someone asked me about my e-reader device; I thought I’d share my answer here.

Bought myself a refurbished black-and-white 3G-and-Wifi Nook via an online day-after-Thanksgiving sales, paying $99 (a non-refurb Wifi-only unit is normally $139, and the 3G-and-Wifi is $189).

I bought it not because I expect to use it a lot for my reading, but because I’ve started publishing for these devices, and figured I should have one to see how my books are really going to look, and to understand better how the reader will interact with them.  The reason that I don’t expect to use it much for reading has nothing to do with the technical situation, and everything to do with me being a cheap-ass bastich. I rarely buy new full-priced prose books. I’m a buyer of used books, of remaindered books, and borrow from the library. (I’m also simply not reading that much prose at this point; longer works I’m more likely to experience as audiobooks, listened to while I exercise or drive.) So this is not a lifestyle item for me.

From a technical aspect, it’s quite a nifty little device. The screen is quite readable. The battery lasts long. Books are easy to add to it.

From an interface aspect, it’s a mite weird. It’s made up of two screens – an always-on black-and-white e-ink reading screen that takes up most of the device, and a full-color touch screen at the bottom which is usually off. All of your control of the device except for flipping pages is done via the touch screen, with a menuing system to let you pull up your various books, control your settings, search text, order books, and do the few-non-book-reading things the unit does (two games, a web browser, MP3 player). The problem is that using the touch screen builds up one’s touch-screen instinct, so that when you use the touch screen to bring up a list of your books on the main screen, the instinct is to tap on the name of the book you want – which is for naught, because the main screen is not a touch screen. You have to use up-and-down arrows that appear on the lower screen to scroll through the list on the upper screen. (And to confuse things further, to get to the next page of your book list, you can’t use the touch screen but have to use the page-turn buttons that are to the sides of the main screen.)

The primary format for the books are the industry-standard-to-the-extent-there-is-one ePub format, which is not true of the Kindle. This makes it theoretically the more useful device for books not gained through ordering directly from the device.

The extras are not well thought-out from a user interface point. The games – chess and sodoku – seem chosen because “these are the games people will most want”, not “games that work well with our two-screen system”, and they are very awkward to use. (In contrast, one could do very good poker or blackjack with the system, using the touch screen to display and interact with your hand, and the reader screen to display everyone else’s. But one cannot add programs without “breaking” the system.) The MP3 player is simply a list of files – no way to build playlists, to organize into selectable subdirectories, if I recall correctly there’s no bookmarking – so the various things one would want to have either significant amounts of music on it or to use it for audiobooks are not there.

That does bring me to another point – despite having the audio hardware (the speakers aren’t anything you’d want to use for music but the headphone jack is fine), it doesn’t have the Kindle’s ability to read a book out loud to you. I’m wondering if this were a late-in-the-design decision so that they didn’t run into the publisher conflicts that Amazon faced over the feature…. but both as a user and as a publisher, I’d rather it had that.

All of this may make it sound like I’m not happy with it – I am, it’s a nifty device, and even with the few books I’ve been willing to buy for it, I’m happy with it. It’s easy to toss in a bag and have a number of options of things to read, and unlike many not-specifically-ebook devices, it reads just fine in the bright light of the outdoors. You can’t read it in the dark, of course, but it’s always easier to add light to a scene than to remove it. It’s just that as an old software guy, the things that the software could do but doesn’t are a mite frustrating.

Published in: on February 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Passage

So I’m sitting here conserving energy – I’ve got whatever illness has been bopping around my household. (Two nights ago, it was the missuz, last night, it was the daughter, today, it’s me.) Moving slowly, not doing work, for some reason I thought I’d look up someone I knew back in grade school. He’s got an uncommon enough name (Whitney Ciambella) that he should be findable.

No Whitney was a vague friend for a while, somewhere around 5th grade. Another student once told me “you know Whitney’s only friends with you because no one else will be friends with him. He’s using you.” But it wasn’t like folks were lining up to be friends with the school math nerd, so that seemed equiatable. He might not have been my first choice – he wasn’t the best student, he was a ruffian (relative to me, which doesn’t mean much) Whitney once used me to receive contraband – he wanted to order one of those switchblade combs advertised in the comics, and his parents wouldn’t let him have it, so he had it shipped to my place.

Anyway, the Internet does not fail me. It gives me three bits of information that I did not have. One is that Whitney was not his first name, but his middle name; I suspect he was named after his dad. The second was that he had become a roofer.

The third? He died last year, age of 46.

Tough news at any time; when one is sick and feeling extra mortal, all the worse.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chicago Code

As I type this, the second episode of The Chicago Code is taping on my DVD recorder, so you may be watching the second one while I review the first one. And the first one started off on the wrong foot for me – because I failed to properly tape it, and I had to watch a low-frame-rate streaming version on an awkwardly-placed computer… and all this with low expectations, because it’s yet another cop show, and those have not fared well with me of late.

But but but, even with all that, it won my attention. It’s smoothly made, the production is good, there’s some well-done dialogue, and the pilot was straightforward and honest in admitting it was introducing the characters. But what really won me over was its choice of focus. But before I get to that, an aside…

Years ago, I was writing some comic book scripts that were to be drawn by the legendary Don Heck (some pages of art do exist for this project, but the planned publisher stopped paying, Don died, and the project was never and will never be completed). At that time, comics publishers were finding any excuse to launch new superhero concepts, and I stated to think what Don and I might do to exploit this situation. Don was one of the main artists of Marvel’s Silver Age, but he was always stronger at drawing guys in business suits than in supervillain suits. And that set me to thinking: superheroes always went after the murders, the robbers, the people who did physical damage via violence – surely, an important thing to stop, but meanwhile corrupt businesses and other leaders were destroying economies, causing vast pain and poverty (although those guys were pikers compared to some of the more recent players.) To a certain degree, cracking down on the street-level crime while ignoring upper-class crime a real class issue. So my thoughts were running toward somehow having superheroes go after those men in suits, perhaps have superheroes who were fighting those muggers and realize that they should go after the big folks, but have trouble figuring out how to apply their strengths to that realm. Never did anything with the idea, but…

But you could see how that sort of thinking might mean that a show where the cops focus on the big time corruption would be just my thing. And that’s what this show brings to the mix, and makes it a fresh addition to the history of cop shows.

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 5:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Retired at 35

Someone else noticed that in the promos and ads for Retired at 35, they heavily promote the actors playing two major supporting characters, but don’t mention the guy who is playing the central character. It makes sense, once you see it. In this series about a 35 year old guy who moves into a retirement community to be with his parents, the central character isn’t a character – he has no motivation of his own, he merely reacts to everything that goes on around him. The show does have some actors I like, including (beyond the promoted George Segal and Jessica Walter) George Wyner, whom I’ve kept an eye on since he appeared on All in the Family over 25 years ago, and a really pretty woman in the part that calls for a pretty woman.

At heart, this show is about how funny it is that middle-aged folks are embarrassed by older folks living real lives… and the answer is, apparently, not very funny.

Watched 2, stopped taping.

Published in: on February 15, 2011 at 5:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Mr. Sunshine

The new sitcom Mr. Sunshine has a heck of a set of creative folks involved. In front of the camera is Matthew “Friends” Perry, Andrea “Hey, I started in the only spin-off of friends” Anders, Alison “amazingly talented actress and sexy in ways that a still photo would never carry” Janney, and Jorge “the best thing on Lost” Garcia. Behind the camera is Thomas Schlamme, the less-known player who deserves a good part of the credit for the creative successes of Sports Night and West Wing and no visible blame for the disappointment of Studio 60. Clearly, this is an ambitious show. The setting is an aggressive one – Perry is the manager of a stadium, which means it’s a setting for interesting but large and costly-to-film things to take place.

Perry is a downbeat misanthrope, balanced by the overly upbeat James “handsomest guy on Las Vegas who I somehow forgot to mention above” Leisure playing a role that would usually be covered by a petite blonde woman,  facing post-sexual tension with Anders,  an insane owner played by Janney, and various underlings. It’s a slick look at a poorly-oiled machine. The delivery is pretty constant,never pausing, in some ways like Sports Night… but unlike that show’s collection of smart characters, here the smarts almost all rest on Perry’s character, which makes him snide rather than someone talking on the level of those around him. That would be fine, if it were consistently amusing, but this was funny in fits and starts, and simply obvious and predictable at other times. There are pieces here, but it may take  some time to figure how they fit together. It shows some of the problems of the early 30Rock; with luck, it will work them out just as that show did.

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Nat’s 2.5 Men fill-in plan

Last year, when Charlie Sheen went on, well, let’s say a necessary vacation, we here at the Nat’s TV towers calculated that the best way for his show to deal is to simply shoot the same episodes they had planned, only with Betty White playing the “Charlie” role.

This year, our advanced TV planning calculator comes up with a different result. This year, they should start making episodes of Two-and-a-Half Men 2040. Getting Martin Sheen to play Charlie, have Jon Cryer play Jake. The calculations still haven’t been completed on who should play Allan.

Published in: on February 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nat on the radio

I’m just one of three guests, so I don’t get that much air time… but if anyone wants to hear my radio voice, here it is!

The legacy of Charles Schulz | 89.3 KPCC.

Published in: on February 1, 2011 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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