iPhone Vacation Diary

9 08 2009

While in Oregon, I took one picture per day from my iPhone and posted it to my Flickr site. If you were paying attention, you may have seen these pictures float by. (If you really care about the details of the vacation, and you haven’t already, make sure to click on each picture and read the descriptions.)

Vacation day 7: beach bonfireVacation day 6: Seaside AquariumVacation day 5: Cat in the HatVacation day 4: running in the waterVacation day 3: bunnies!Alex and haystack rockVacation day 1

I work with technology every day, so I take a lot for granted. But I must admit I’m amazed at how easy it is to take photos, edit them, and share them with people all around the country without using a computer. I did this all from my phone.

That’s it. I just wanted to share my slack-jawed amazement at how far technology has come.

Kindle: Buyer Beware

15 04 2009

A letter I wrote earlier this week to Amazon:

Dear Sir or Madam,

My Amazon Kindle 1, which I have owned for about 10 months, is broken. The screen won’t refresh. Instead, all I see are horizontal lines across the screen. I called customer service on Saturday. The customer service representative was helpful and walked me through how to reset the device, both through the keyboard and through the pinhole in the back. Unfortunately, neither step worked, and I’m left with a broken Kindle.

Here’s where I’m mad at myself and frustrated with Amazon. I told the customer service representative the truth: My kindle had fallen off my nightstand earlier in the day. My son had jostled some other items on the nightstand, the Kindle slid, and it fell 27 inches to the floor. It wasn’t flung across the room carelessly, there was no velocity other than 27 inches of free-fall. My wife, who saw this happen, didn’t think anything of it at all and just put the Kindle back on the nightstand.

I’m mad at myself because your customer service representative told me, after we’d exhausted the options for resetting the Kindle, that the Kindle’s warranty doesn’t cover drops or falls, and my only remaining service option was spending $180 for a replacement Kindle. Part of me wishes I’d told a white lie and didn’t mention the fall — after all, I didn’t see it happen…

But most of all, I’m disappointed in Amazon for building and shipping a product that cannot withstand normal use. My wife was quite surprised that there was any problem with the Kindle at all. I doubt the device experienced much more impact than it would when jostled around in a backpack or a carry-on bag. You must have expected that the Kindle would be frequently left on tables, nightstands, or desks (all common areas where books accumulate), and that sometimes Kindles, like books, would fall. Unlike Kindles, though, books aren’t rendered useless when they fall two feet.

Fortunately, we’re a two-Kindle family. Before this incident, I’d been happy enough with my Kindle to buy one for my wife so we could share ebooks with no conflict over the device. Now that I better understand the shoddy construction of these devices, I’m not going to spend $180 for a replacement Kindle. I view this as throwing good money after bad. I’ll read my remaining ebooks when I manage to borrow my wife’s device, and I’ll wait patiently for ereader technology to mature to at least cell phone ruggedness. Amazon, please build a better device and win me back as a customer.


Brian Dewey

Stuff I Like: Newspapers on the Kindle

21 03 2009

I’m a news junkie. Judging by the fate of newspaper companies across the nation, I’m one of a dying breed: People who subscribe to a daily paper. In high school & college, that paper was The Washington Post. When I first moved to Seattle, I subscribed to The Seattle Times and enjoyed the novelty of getting an evening newspaper. In 1998, I switched from the Seattle Times to The New York Times to get back to the level of national & international coverage I’d been used to with The Washington Post. For over a decade, I’ve gotten The New York Times every day and I’ve managed to at least skim it on most days.

For me, the big news-junkie story of the past week is not the demise of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Instead, it’s that I’ve finally changed my print New York Times subscription to Sunday only. The rest of the time, I get the newspaper wirelessly delivered to my Kindle.

The Kindle New York Times

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I was wrong: I now have and love the Kindle

16 07 2008

A while back, I decided I wasn’t going to buy the Amazon Kindle. I wrote about it here: Why I’m Not Buying a Kindle (Yet)

Well, the following things changed my mind.

  • Simple logistics. Amazon dropped the price $50 and actually has the devices in stock (they’d been sold out for months)
  • With Molly on maternity leave, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time commuting by bus or vanpool instead of carpool. I wanted to use that time for reading, and I thought the Kindle would be great for commuting.
  • I wrote that I’d be willing to pay lots for an e-library instead of an e-book. One day, it dawned on me: With Kindle’s built-in wireless connection to Amazon, I have purchased an e-library. Essentially, Amazon’s entire stock of Kindle books is my e-library, where I only have to pay for the books I wind up reading.

That last point has the potential to really change my book buying habits. Today, I have a pretty large collection of books that I’ve purchased because I wanted to read them someday, and I haven’t gotten around to it. I buy these books because I want them available to me when I’m ready to read them.

With the Kindle, I don’t have to buy the books well in advance. Instead, I can buy it one minute before I actually sit down to read it. Even better, most Kindle books have free “samples” (the first chapter or so). That’s lead to a new pattern for me, which goes something like this:

  • I peruse the New York Times book review, or hear about some book on NPR that sounds interesting.
  • If the book has a Kindle edition (and most new books do), I send a free sample of the book to my Kindle as soon as possible. This way, I build up a list of books I’d like to read someday on my Kindle, without spending any extra money.
  • When I’m ready to start a new book, I peruse the samples on my Kindle. I start reading whatever matches my mood of the moment. If I like the sample, I buy the entire book.

So far, this system works great.

I have to say the experience of reading the Kindle is in many ways more convenient than reading a paper book, at least for my current lifestyle. It’s all because the Kindle is easy to read with just one hand holding the Kindle, and it requires very little movement to turn the page. This makes it easy to read the Kindle while standing on a crowded 545 bus. Or something I never expected: It’s easy to read the Kindle while holding a 4-week-old baby in one arm and with the pinkie of one hand in that baby’s mouth. Ain’t no way I could read a paper book that way.

And finally, if you’re reading this, Jeff Bezos, you should put me on your payroll. I get the same question 1-2 times per day on my commute: “How do you like that thing?” Subsidizing the Kindles of commuters in major cities is probably the best way you can get the word out.

Amazon Kindle

Another take on the Kindle…

21 11 2007

Here’s another viewpoint on the Kindle: Kindle-icious.

First impressions, it is a nice light little package. Sleek & white but relentlessly functional – no iPod/iPhone sexy curves here. The screen is great. Not quite paper-quality but the closest I’ve seen on a real device. It’s a little hard to read in dim light, but so are books.

Why I’m Not Buying a Kindle (Yet)

21 11 2007

The short answer is I don’t want an e-book, I want an e-library. I’m willing to pay a lot of money for an e-library, but I think it will take a lot of time to amass this library, and I’m not sure the Kindle will be around long enough.

I’ve read through a lot of the specs and promotional material for the Amazon Kindle. For those who don’t know, this is the latest venture to produce the mythical e-book reading device. The e-book is probably second only to the flying car for unfulfilled technological promise.

I’m sure I’m the Kindle’s target audience. I’m an early technology adopter. Unlike most of my peers, I read books (I probably have 800 books or so in my bookshelves at home). I’ve even dabbled with e-books in the past. I used Microsoft Reader extensively on my Pocket PC devices, back when I had Pocket PC devices, and I even wrote a program that converted The Economist to Microsoft Reader format. (I never released that tool because of its dubious legal status, but myself and a few friends who have Economist subscriptions used it.) Back when I had Pocket PCs, I think I read more electronic copies of The Economist than dead-tree copies.

So why am I waiting on the Kindle?

  1. A big reason is hidden in the above paragraph, with the number of times I wrote, "…back when I had Pocket PCs…" From past experience, I’m now skeptical of the staying power of any e-book device. While I’m more optimistic about the Kindle than anything I’ve seen in the recent past (being backed by the biggest Internet bookseller counts for a lot), I’m enormously skeptical that any investment I make in a Kindle device or Kindle books will mean anything in five years. (Even if I could find some of those old Economist e-books, I no longer have a device that can read them.)
  2. Amazon wants Kindle to be the "iPod of books." That’s an intriguing statement. But they’re missing one key thing. When I switched from listening to CDs to listening to MP3s on an iPod, I was able to take my entire existing music collection with me. True, it involved hours of sitting in front of a computer ripping my CDs, and hours more appropriately cataloging my classical music. But that still means that for an investment of a few hundred dollars and some time, I can now carry my entire music collection with me. This is what Amazon’s missing. If, by buying a Kindle, I could immediately get access to my 800 book library, I’d buy one today.
  3. The Kindle makes me think of the music industry’s transition from LPs to CDs. I’m too young to have lived through that transition, but I bet the audiophiles who had invested in hundreds of LPs faced a similar dilemma with the introduction of the CD. You had to buy an expensive device to play the CDs, and then you had to repurchase all of your records in the new format. At the end of the day, I think this transition succeeded because a CD placed next to a record had a lot of advantages. I don’t know if that’s true of the Kindle. If I’m just talking about the experience of reading a single book, it’s hard to beat the portability and durability of paper. I never have to plug in or reboot a paperback.

So that’s my struggle. I want to want a Kindle. I can see that having a library of 800+ books in electronic form is a better world to live in than having 800 books on bookshelves. But I’ll need to get there a single book at a time, and I don’t think a Kindle wins on the book-by-book basis. And considering that it might take me years to amass a library equivalent to my current one, and I can’t be sure the Kindle will be around in five years’ time, it means I’m going to wait and see.

(Amazon, are you listening? If you want to reach book-loving technology early adopters like me who are willing to invest in entire e-libraries, offer me the ability to buy entire e-libraries. For instance, for $8,000 I can buy the dead-tree version of the Penguin Classics. I’d pay several thousand dollars for a Kindle with those books pre-loaded. Better yet: You can go to LibraryThing and find out which paper books I currently have, and it’s conveniently cross-referenced back to Amazon’s database. I’d pay thousands of dollars if you could offer me a Kindle with a significant fraction of those books pre-loaded on it. Start offering e-libraries instead of e-books, and I’ll get a lot more interested!)

Book Review: The Air We Breathe

30 10 2007

LibraryThing arranged to get me an advance reading copy of The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett in exchange for a review (either positive or negative). So, here we go.

The Air We Breathe is another “antique science fiction” novel by Andrea Barrett. I’ve just made up the genre of “antique science fiction,” and as far as I know, Andrea Barrett is its only practitioner. Unlike conventional science fiction, which speculates about scientific advances to come, antique science fiction focuses on the scientific advances of the past. Like Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal, the other two Barrett novels I have read, The Air We Breathe tells the story of the scientific advances of an earlier age and the impact that had on characters’ lives. In this novel, Barrett lovingly dwells on the advances in chemistry, physics, and archaeology in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. However, because the novel is set in a WWI-era sanatorium, what most impacts the characters lives are the scientific advances that haven’t yet happened.

The rough plot arc of the novel makes me think of Paradise Lost. In the beginning of the novel, you’re introduced to characters who have lost nearly everything, both materially (many are poor immigrants) and socially, being exiled to the living death of forced rest & recuperation. In the first part of the novel, I had to continually remind myself that I wasn’t reading about elderly patients in a nursing home. These are vigorous people in their 20s and 30s who are suddenly forced to do nothing. Slowly, the patients at Tamarack State Sanatorium build an idealistic community organized around a love of learning and teaching each other — their own mini-paradise. Then, as with Adam and Eve, out-of-control passions bring the paradise to a sudden and tragic end.

You don’t want to read this book for its plot. Because most of the characters have to do nothing more than sit and breathe the cool air of the Adirondacks, there’s not a lot of action. You also probably don’t want to read the book to try to find nuanced, realistic characters. For the most part, Barrett’s characters neatly fall into one of three categories: Saintly, calm personalities with diverse backgrounds but united by their love of learning; Obsessive, selfish, and destructive characters; and the narrators who “?lived as if we were already dead, as if we’d died when we were diagnosed and nothing we did after that mattered?”

That said, I loved the book. I loved it because it vividly carried my imagination back to 1916. For a few hours, my mind soaked up that other universe. I felt the dread of being in the tomb-like atmosphere of a sanatorium. I felt hopeful as teaching, the arts, and the sciences woke up the patients at Tamarack State and gave them hope. I felt saddened as the delicate, utopian community shattered on its impact with irrational human passions. And finally my mind can’t stop thinking through this fictional story of 1916 to find what it says about human nature that is still true in 2007.

Especially if you love science, this book will take you on a worthwhile intellectual journey. Worth reading.

My Cataloging Project is Done (For Now…)

7 08 2007

Over the weekend, I finished cataloging the books in the house. I took a few shortcuts. Our 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica is just a single entry in the catalog, even though it’s 29 volumes. I took a couple of other multi-volume shortcuts on the reference books. There are also some books, like travel guides, that I didn’t bother to catalog. We also didn’t get all of Alex’s books. I’m not sure I got all of the books without ISBNs.

Even so, here are the fun statistics about our library:

  • I have 773 books in the catalog.
  • For 13 of the books I own, exactly one other person on LibraryThing had that book.
  • I categorized 131 books as “literature,” 65 as “cooking”, and 42 as “poetry.”

You can see all of the book reviews I’ve entered here:


(Most of them are just a sentence or two, primarily to help my memory.)

I got my CueCat

2 08 2007

I got my CueCat today. That’s the barcode scanner I ordered to make it easier to catalog my books. And I’ve learned a few things about myself tonight. First, I get unreasonably excited by cataloging my books. I know all I’m doing is making a list — but it’s still kind of fun. (Even Molly, who sometimes thinks I’m the biggest dork in the world, thought it was fun to swipe book barcodes and see the book show up on the list.)

Second, I learned I’m a really bad estimator. When I started this project, I thought I’d wind up with 400-500 books. I thought I had about “two dozen” cookbooks.

Well, it turns out I have 64 cookbooks. I have over 500 books in my catalog, and I still have a couple more bookcases to go through. I now think I have closer to 700 books in the house. Maybe more.

And today, with the help of my trusty CueCat, I added 340 books to my catalog. Wow.


I’m in Love with LibraryThing

30 07 2007

I discovered LibraryThing over the weekend, and I’m in love.

Anyone who knows me or has visited my house knows I love books. Since 1994, I’ve tried to keep a list of the books I’ve read. I started this habit because I found I was forgetting what I’d read. I’d be in a bookstore and be unsure if I’d read something before. (This was particularly true of all of the sci-fi & fantasy books I read in junior high & high school.) The simple act of writing down the titles what I’d read helped me remember the content of the books.

If you want to read more about my history trying to keep track of what I’ve read, why I love LibraryThing, and the tools I wrote to make it easier to move over to LibraryThing, then keep reading this post.

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