Friday, December 21, 2007

Two very different histories

I'm currently reading two books, both rooted in history, but in very different ways.

The first is Falls the Shadow, a historical novel by Sharon Kay Penman. This is the second of a trilogy (though they seem to be able to stand alone) that takes place in 13th century England and Wales. Written much like a typical fantasy novel, but based on real events and royal families of the time, it's a quick read, despite its 600 pages.

The other is Maravich, a biography of the late, great basketball player "Pistol" Pete Maravich. I'm not impressed by the writing and editing of the book, but the story about this incredibly talented but troubled man is really interesting. There's another popular biography about Maravich, as well, Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich. The one I'm reading boasts access to Maravich's widow and includes lots of quotes and anecdotes from friends and family. I suspect the other is better written, though.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why I don't want a Kindle

The technology media have been all agog this holiday season about the Amazon Kindle, the new e-book reader from the world's largest bookstore. Now, I must admit that the idea of an e-book reader, in principle, appeals to my tech geek sensibilities. But, even with the many neat features of the Kindle (free wireless for downloads, nice display, decent battery life), I'm just not sold. Here are a few reasons why:

  • I'd have to pay more for content that I could otherwise get free (blogs, library books) or inexpensively (used books, paperbacks).
  • The admission price is too high: $399
  • It's one more device to carry around, keep charged, risk breaking, etc.
  • I can read blogs and newspapers online from my home PC, my work PC, or my laptop anyplace that I have Internet access (which nowadays is almost anywhere), and I don't find it that hard to carry around a book or magazine.
  • Limited book selection. "More than 90,000 books, including more than 95 of 112 New York Times bestsellers" just isn't compelling. I just looked up four books from my "to-read" list. Of the four, two are not available for the Kindle. (The two that are available are high-profile new releases, which make up probably less than half of my reading list.)
Basically, I think that, like the Sony e-Reader, the business model just doesn't work. They seem to want to model it on the iPod/iTunes model, but they're really quite different. Books don't normally need a device to be played. Most people don't want to switch from book to book several times per day. The selection isn't nearly as comprehensive, and there's no easy way to convert a book you already own into an electronic format.

I think that, to convince me to get a digital book reader, at least one of the following must happen:
  • The device has to be offered as a loss leader (i.e., much cheaper than $399).
  • The book selection has to be much larger and the prices much cheaper.
  • Some means to borrow library e-books and to sell used e-books has to be integrated into the device.
Until then, I'll stick with attending the twice-per-year used book sales run by the Friends of the Medford Public Library.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Work retreat

I've spent the past 24 hours or so at a retreat for work at the Essex Conference Center in Essex, Mass. The facility here is beautiful and just right for a low-key off-site event. Even the food is good, which is hardly a given for this type of place.

The retreat itself has been a lot of fun. Yesterday was spent with a lot of open-ended discussions revolving around interesting areas of potential (or current) research. Then, after dinner, we had drinks, played games, had a campfire (with s'mores!), had some more drinks, played some more games, etc. This morning I was up early (I didn't have quite as many drinks as some of the others) and went for a walk on a nature trail on the grounds. We have a few more hours of discussions this morning, bracketed by breakfast and lunch, and then we'll be heading home.

It's great to work someplace with really interesting, fun, and pleasant people. Berkman Center is like that, so spending a day and a half with them, even on a weekend, is a really positive experience.

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