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  

Why The Today Show rules

We here at Nat’s TV have an official, if previously unstated, policy: we love any show which dedicates several minutes to promoting our new book. Keep that in mind, Law & Order: Los Angeles!

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  

No, no they haven’t

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of nonsense like this, from people who apparently cannot read what they wrote (in this case, “Jessica Shambora, Reporter” at CNNMoney.com):

Sales of Kindle books, meanwhile, have surpassed those of hardcover books: Amazon announced last week that it sells 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers.

That second part of the sentence does not support the first part. All Kindle book sales go through Amazon. Only a fraction of hardcover sales go through Amazon. It sure is an exciting statement, though, if one ignores it falsity.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sherlock Holmes and the Lost Hour

I’ve written before (not on the blog, in print) about the inherent problem of doing mystery stories in comics form. It is inherent to mysteries that details are important. Any detail which seems out of place will seem significant, and should be addressed in the mystery’s solution. In prose, you have the advantage of very tight control over what information you give the audience. In film, while mistakes are certainly possible, you have the advantage of actual physical sets and props that can be coordinated, and a staff of alert people keeping track of things. But in comics, everything is drawn, every line is an interpretation rather than a reflection of reality, and it’s very easy to accidentally create “information” that will seem significant. And if there’s a very obvious piece of dubious information, the reader can be left doubting the telling of the work rather than accepting it, thus pulling them out of the story.

I came across what appears to be a particularly egregious example of this, in the new Dynamite Entertainment comic book Sherlock Holmes, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion and drawn in a precise-if-stiff manner by Aaron Campbell. Time is very much of the issue of this story, and in a house laden with clocks, Dr. Watson sees fit to comment on this one:

Any ten oclock scholar should be able to see the problem

Any ten o'clock scholar should be able to see the problem

Now I might call that timepiece unusual, intriguing, perhaps fascinating. But for something to be a magnificent timepiece, I reckon it should be at least capable of tracking time; the inability to register ten o’clock is a harsh limitation.

We see the same timepiece later, with it’s own odd variation repeated. Had it been redrawn by hand, I would’ve figured that the apparent error was intentional, that this clock does have this curious feature. But given that the clock face digits look to be computer type, the easiest thing to do would’ve been to draw it once and copy it over.

Now I could be wrong; it may be that this was supposed to be a subtle oddity that Dr. Watson is overlooking but which Holmes will make something vital of when the moment comes (the story is not completed in this issue). But even if that’s the case, it just points up the problems that come with the inability to trust the work on the level that mystery requires.

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Even frost giants get the odds

With the in-laws in town, there’s been some time when Mrs. Nat’s TV, the wee one, and the in-laws have all gone out, leaving me alone. The opportunity to lay on the couch and actually just read a book in the quiet comfort of my own home, that couldn’t be passed up. I may only have had time for a short book – there is much to be done – but it was lovely.

It helped, of course, that it was a good book. Odd and the Frost Giants is a juvenile from Neil Gaiman, created for World Book Day (a holiday not celebrated in the U.S., which I sure thought was part of the world — it involves publishers offering up interesting new books for youth for a low price.) Now, Neil is quite a capable storyteller, but the best of his book-length prose works so far was Coraline, another juvenile, so don’t let that descriptor put you off.

When the crippled son of a dead viking rescues a stuck bear, you’re likely to end up either with a very short story or a very big heroic adventure, and luckily for the reader, Neil chose the latter course. Neil is in comfortable territory for him, dealing with the often human-seeming foibles of supernatural beings (realms he has mined in much of his book-length prose and more than a little of his comics work), and he brings his key strengths – most notably, a sense that there is a logical structure to the worlds he depicts. The gods of mythology have clear emotional logic – they want things, and they do things to get what they want, and like most of us, their efforts can be understood by understanding what they want. Far too often in fantasy, particularly for the younger set, such concerns seem to be sloughed off. And in this case, the hero’s success (and it’s not really giving away anything to say that he has success – this is, after all, a juvenile adventure book) comes because he bothers understanding that these are beings who want something and bothers figuring out what they want.

It’s not a perfect book, there are one or two little missteps – there’s an unconvincing use of science (not in a “science doesn’t work that way” aspect, but in an “I don’t believe he would’ve known how to do that” sense), but they are not at crucial moments and are not crucial failures. Still, it’s one worth the reading time. It’s certainly worth the small amount of money the book sells for in the UK, it was worth the bigger-but-not-extravagant amount that it cost me to get it (the edition intended for this country won’t come out until October), and it will likely be worth your time to read it. (Or, if Neil is good enough to record this one, to listen to it; Neil is probably the best author I’ve heard when it comes to reading one’s own work for an audiobook.)

I followed up reading the book by watching Stardust last night, the rollicking film adaptation of the best of Neil’s not-intended-as-a-juvenile books. I’d seen it in the theater – something which is unfortunately true for far too few – but this fun film was well worth watching again, and was enjoyed by Mrs. Nat’s TV as well. And it is so good to see that people have not given up on Peter O’Toole; as a person likely near the end of his run but playing a man who still has strong character near the end of his run, he does quite well.

Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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