Kindle Software Update 2.3

I’ve had my Kindle 2 for about eight months at this point. It has easily crossed the point of being able to justify the purchase. I’ve read a dozen books in their entirety and parts of many more. I use it as my Twitter/web interface when I’m out of the house, and I even in a pinch use it to maintain my comic book inventory and wish list for when I’m shopping for comic bargains at conventions.

Last week Amazon announced an upgrade to the Kindle software, from 2.0.4 to 2.3. I had previously had the Unicode Fonts hack installed and only a few days prior realized that prevents automatic upgrades from happening and had removed the hack. I also had a misapprehension about how quickly the automatic update was supposed to happen (it might take weeks for all Kindles to get it over the air) and when 24 hours had elapsed without me getting it, I downloaded it and installed it manually.

There are three main features announced as part of this upgrade.

  1. Improved battery life, even when wireless is left on.
  2. Built in PDF reader
  3. Manual screen rotation

Here is my quick review of these features. For battery life, I completely charged my Kindle 2 on Tuesday night, turned the wireless on and left it. I’ve used it about the same as any time period, possibly a little less because of the holiday. It’s been five days in this experiment and the battery indicator is still around 2/3 full. Tomorrow I should do some reading in the gym and other routine uses through the week, so I should get a good feeling for how long this charge lasts. Thus far, it looks like it will easily make the one week mark.

For the built in PDF reader, I took all the documents I had on my Kindle that had been converted from PDF and removed them, and just put the original PDFs on my device. This experiment didn’t work so great. For pretty much all of the PDFs I tried, the typeface was too small for my old eyes to read. The one that I did find reasonable and readable was the PDF of Conversations with ADD by Alan David Doane. Unlike normal books, there is no way to increase the font on PDFs so in almost every case, no matter how screwed up the PDF to Kindle conversion was, the converted version was better.

Feature #3 I do love. The ability to on the fly change the screen rotation from portrait to landscape or vice versa is very nice. The same menu that allows for changing the font size also allows you to change the screen orientation. This used to be possible but was cumberson to do. Putting this in the menu (accessible by the button to the right of the space bar) is a very nice usability increase, and works well with the PDF reader. Since that reader auto-sizes based on the width of the PDF, being able to rotate makes the document display larger.

So, while the experiment isn’t quite conclusive yet for battery life, I’m going to score that one a success. That makes the battery life a clear win, the PDF reader mostly a wash as something that will occasionally be useful but mostly useless, and the screen orientation much better. That’s 2 for 3, not bad. I already was happy with the Kindle but all these improvements make the experience better. Had I been less of a spazz I’d have gotten this upgrade automatically over the air. That Amazon continues to work to improve the user experience of devices they’ve already sold is a good sign.

Memories of the Futurecast

A few weeks ago I surprisingly got caught up on my podcast queue, after two years ranging from one to six weeks behind at all times. I celebrated, of course, by subscribing to more podcasts. First was Tweet Me Harder about which I’ve already talked. Last week I subscribed to Memories of the Futurecast. from Wil Wheaton.

This show was an unusual choice for me. It is Wil Wheaton reading excerpts from his book of reactions to re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first season. I’ll lay it on the line – I’ve got nothing against the cat but I I’m not particularly a Wheaton fan. If we’re both at next year’s Dragon*Con and in the elevator together, I’m not going to squee. I don’t read his blog or particularly follow what he does. I’m worse than disinterested about ST:TNG. I’ve seen half a dozen episodes and hated five of those six. When it was on the air, my friend Mike Fisher kept urging me to watching it and after six months I’d relent and watch one, which would be the most god awful thing I’d ever seen. Six months later I’d do it again, same reaction. So, I have no fondness for ST:TNG . I haven’t seen these episodes Wil makes fun of, other than being predisposed to agree with him when he points out what sucks.

I’m enjoying the show more than seems to make sense on face value, considering my apathy towards the subject matter. I like the show despite the cutesy-ism. Wil’s style seems to have a lot of the hyper-irony that frequently rubs me so wrong with Joss Whedon. You get exactly one play of the “Oh wait, no, it was the opposite” card before I get really tired of that and Wil has done it a few times in four episodes. The playing of a wrong sound effect has also gotten really tired, although the fact that I’m listening to these episodes one a day instead of spaced out a week probably overweights that as a concern.

Episode four also was a prime example of why in my own show I try not to apologize for any time period between shows. He spent a minute or two explaining why the show went up on a Tuesday instead of a Monday. This was September and I’m listening in November. I just don’t care, get to the festivities dude.

All that snark on the table, having said that I’m having a good time listening to these episodes. I do like him taking shots at ST:TNG – although Wil is doing it from love and I’m enjoying it from hate. We meet in the middle. Mostly I like the concept of the show. He has this work he’s doing and he can publish his own book of it, available in paperback or as a PDF (no MOBI for the Kindle?) and also support all that with an audio scaffold. (Shame points to Lulu.com for selling an ebook without any mention of what format it actually is in. I need more details than “Download” people!)

So overall, I’d recommend the show. If you are a fan of Wheaton or of Star Trek, it’s a no brainer. Just go do it. Even if you aren’t, it’s a fun enough listen. Dave says check it out.

Google Chrome for OS X

Over a week ago I downloaded the pre-release alpha of the OS X version of Google Chrome. I accepted the possibility that it might crash, have problems or generally behave like software that isn’t finished and/or fully tested. Wow. I used it for about two hours before I switched it to my default browser. Every so often, I’ll need to start Firefox up to get a stored password that I never put in my vault. When I do, Firefox reminds me why I don’t use it. Everything about it, even clicking on the menus, seems so slow compared to Chrome that it bums me out.

If this is what it is like in the alpha version, I cannot wait for OS X chrome to come out in full release. I expect to be delirious with joy for I am easy to please. Just don’t crash and don’t use up all the memory on my machine after running for a day.

New Peakecast is Up

For those who were friends or fan of Thomas Peake or just fans of interesting music, the newest Peakecast has been posted. This is a fitting show to be the second episode, as it was itself a memorial for former WREKster and restlessly creative musician Witt Mills. I urge you to go, check it out and if there is any chance you have any Thomas Peake material recorded, please dig through those boxes in the closet and attic. Give those unlabeled tapes a spin, just in case. One never knows, does one.

Above all, please leave us some feedback. We’re doing this show partly as a balm against loss and partly as an act of defiance against an uncaring universe. Let us know if it soothed or enraged you. I’m deliriously happy with either reaction.

And don’t forget the Peake Foundation. Go out and make a difference where you live. The clock is ticking, we need results by October 2010. What better place than here? What better time than now?

Narrative Grammar

My friend Nicola has a great post today on narrative grammar at her editing site. As I write my NaNoWriMo novel I struggle with this every single paragraph. I’m not an experienced fiction writer so I’m feeling my way through. I have been doing my best to follow some of these advice before reading it. I do pay attention to where my characters are in the space they occupy, and try to make sure that the order of actions makes sense for their viewpoint. I don’t randomly add details, I try to bring them into the flow as a person in that location would notice them, largest and most salient and attention getting things first and then honing in later.

Nicola throws out a challenge to rewrite a paragraph first given to her by Samuel R. Delany. Here is my stab at it:

Harris grabbed the intricate metal handles and pushed open the heavy boardroom door. As he walked in, the sensor circuit transpared the great panes of a huge picture window. He could see the great and silver buildings of the city through it. In the center of the room chairs were set haphazardly around a board table, framed by a gold rug.

For those people doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, I recommend subscribing to the Sterling Editing blog. You’ll learn lessons you need. And don’t forget their second draft special. I’ll be taking that one up myself.

The Shortest of Short Urls

This post is somewhat of an experiment. I’ve recently been shown the power of unicode domains, particularly in the case of URL shorteners for Twitter where every character counts. I’ve successfully tweeted these shortened URLs and had them correctly sho up on FriendFeed and Facebook. I’m curious if the Ecto to WordPress chain will be as succcesful at preserving it.

The English name of the service is Tinyarro.ws. Here’s an example of the link to this blog as shortened by the service: http://?.ws/?? . Hard to get much shorter than that.

I find this whole thing pretty cool and will keep fiddling around with this service. Unless it completely falls apart, it will be my shortener of choice even though I like the extra features of bit.ly such as the click counter.

NaNoWriMo Second Draft Special

My friends Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith are writers who between them have written a significant chunk of my favorite books of the last twenty years. Earlier this year, before I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo and before they formed their agency, I had already reached out to them as first readers to help me with my novel draft. Not only am I a first novelist, but I haven’t written much fiction of any length so I wanted to get some critiques of the general structure of the work. I wasn’t looking for a line edit, but more along the lines of answering the questions “Does this book achieve what it tries to? Does it pay off what it sets up? Does this thing flow like a novel?” My novel has two timelines running in parallel, which Nicola did with three in her novel Slow River and I’d like to know how successfully they think I pull that off. It’s scary stuff for a dilettante writer to attempt and I definitely want a second opinion on it.

Now they they have formed their agency Sterling Editing, they are doing that sort of work for a wider clientele. They have decided to offer a NaNoWriMo special. If you are a participant (have to be able to point to your progress page and results), they’ll offer an evaluation of your book at a deep discount from what that service normally costs. I’ll be taking them up on this in the post NaNoWriMo editing madness of turning my first draft into something that will get published, either by an existing publisher or by me myself. One way or another, this is going out into the world and I want their help tuning it up.

November is all about losing the excuses, getting motivated and putting some words on paper. When you’ve done that and you are looking for taking your NaNoWriMo novel from first to subsequent drafts, I’d suggest looking at Sterling Editing. That’s who will be helping me.

Tweet Me Harder

For five years now, I keep looking for new and interesting podcasts that push the form. My biggest distress with the medium has been the way that people generally stick to the safe formats (including, first and foremost, me.) I’ve always thought that podcasters should take advantage of the very low investments required and low repercussions of failure to try crazy things. That led to early experiments like the “Podcat” show that took clips of other podcasters, mixed them together over a techno beat and seperated sections with a crazy cat meowing.

I’ve recently found a show that I think has all the cool format breaking goodness I long for as well as is legitimately funny. That can be rough to come by sometimes. It’s called Tweet Me Harder and is the self-proclaimed “first, best, only and last talkback enabled interactive audio podblast.” It’s done by two webcomics artists, David Malki! and Kris Straub and is everything I would have hoped to have gotten from You Look Nice Today but that I never actually did.

The show seems to have some natural Subgenius elements to it. They talk about whatever random surreal bull-dada occurs to them, which is generally pretty funny. They stream it live and also podcast it, and while they stream it they interact with listeners from their Twitter account. By adding the hashtag with a show number to your tweets, they see it while they are recording and talk about them, which also means you can go back and look at the chatter from previous shows such as the most current one at this writing.

I got a show almost by random, appropriately enough, because I subscribe to other Kris Straub productions and got one episode in one of those feeds. I enjoyed it and have been listening to all the episodes from #1 forward. As much as I enjoy the wacky hijinks of the regular episodes, it’s the weird breaking of the (very loose) format that I enjoy best. First there was a “freestyle” rap battle to solve a dispute. I put quotes around “freestyle” because how freestyle can a prerecorded bit actually be? It got extra brilliant when the contest was judged by Fake Stan Lee, who tried his best to put everything in the context of early 1960’s Marvel characters only to get cut off every time. “That reminds me of when the Mighty Thor met the Incredible Hulk…” “Ok, thanks Fake Stan.”

I just got to shows #15 and #16, which had a fantastic macguffin. I don’t think I want to say what it is (even though it is pretty easy to tell early on) because the slow reveal is the real fun part. I just like this show. I don’t know how long this can go and I have yet to take part in the interactivity but I enjoy each talkback enabled interactive podblast.

Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for November 8, 2009 – “Punk and NaNoWriMo”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for November 8, 2009. I play multiple songs from the 1970s San Francisco punk scene; I talk about why I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year even though I wasn’t really ready for it; I talk about discovering interesting facts about the late 70’s San Francisco and the luck that Gimme Something Better was released just in time for me to write this book; I lay out the plan I think gay activists should use to get gay marriage if they really want it. With that, I skank to the beat on out of here.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Guy Fawkes Day

Today is Guy Fawkes Day, where depending on your leanings we either celebrate the attempt to blow up the British Parliament building or the failure to blow it up. It can be hard to tell.

I had paid for and was using my logo for years before I realized it was Guy Fawkes. It took a young dude working on an Army bomb disposal unit who I met in Washington Dulles airport. He said that Fawkes is their mascot and started a conversation after seeing my logo. I explained it to the artist as a silent movie villain and only in the airport that day did I realize that the look of the mustachio twirling, tie-her-to-the-tracks villain is pure Guy Fawkes.

Today you can download for free Paul Melancon’s song “Guy Fawkes Day”, which I highly recommend. He’s one of my favorite musicians, so go get this while the getting is good. I love this song, I love his music, go do it.

Why I am Doing NaNoWriMo This Year

Punk List for Manzanar Dreams

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I made the decision late in the game that this year, I would be a participant in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m publicly kind of a non-joiner, so why did I join in this? When I was in college and my early twenties, it was my goal to be a full-time professional writer. I was a big reader of science fiction, and I could think of nothing better than to spend my days as a writer of it. I did write short stories in that time period, and even had a poem published in the magazine Aboriginal SF. None of my short stories were ever published, as I never submitted any of them to any publications.

In 1991 I started taking notes for a novel idea I had. It was titled Manzanar Dreams and concerned the 1970’s California punk scene, the Japanese internment during World War 2, the spread of corporate radio, mind control and a little good old fashioned homicide. I’ve got character notes, plot outlines and even drawings of the characters that date back 18 years. I’ve never gone a week without thinking about this book in that whole time, but in 18 years there is one telling thing I have failed to do. I haven’t written one word of the actual text of the book.

I had actually emailed my writer friend Kelley Eskridge earlier this year to tell her I was stealth attempting to write the book. Then I shelved it in favor of a different project that seemed timely that equally didn’t happen, with the final result of me doing nothing on anything. I decided to change gears and rather than stealthily attempt the book, I’d publically do it as part of NaNoWriMo. It really is time to either do this thing or admit that I’ll never do it, so here I go.

One of the structural challenges that faced me is that I have three main characters: a hero, a fairly sympathetic villain, and a love interest vertex of the interpersonal triangle. When I have thought about the book for these years, 98% of my energies have gone towards the villain. He’s the character that I personally find compelling, which begged the question – if I cared about him more than the other characters, why should I expect the readers to care about the others? Why isn’t the book solely about him as the anti-hero? I had a breakthrough a few months ago, where a very small change in perspective towards the hero made the themes of the book more tangible and also gave me a hook into why I should care about him just as much as the bad guy. From that point, I felt like a bull waiting to get released from the chute.

Yesterday (notably day two of the month, I left the first pass by completely) I wrote the first two chapters of this book, including a scene I’ve been thinking of for most of that 18 years. It flew by. I write the first 1000 word chapter in 30 minutes on my lunch break. I don’t expect all of them to come this easily as I’ve thought a lot about the beginning and end of this book, but the tricky middle where all the story and character arc happens needs much fleshing out. Looking back over the 2350 words I wrote yesterday, it lacks a lot of sublety but I can live with that at this point. I need to get something down on paper to be fixed later, and I’d rather have imperfect, unsubtle prose today than perfect and wonderful words at some indeterminate point in the fuzzy future. This whole month long exercise is about turning off the inner critic, tabling all the excuses for failing to produce and just going for it. That’s what I’m doing, I’m going for it. I have an Amazon wish list for the project that I’m not begging for people to buy me stuff so much as is a resource list for what I’m thinking about. I’ll be buying some of the music on that list to listen to as I attempt to pound out this book.

Merlin Mann actually covered some of the points that bother me about the whole NaNoWriMo infrastructure. You can follow along with me at my author’s page, but be warned I’m not doing much of the social stuff. Like Merlin says, that time you spend on the forums is time you aren’t writing and with my full-time job and a lot of other crap going on, I don’t have much ability to spend my free time not writing while still making it to 50,000 words this month.

I’m scared, I’m exhilarated, I’m happy to be making tangible something about which I have thought so much. That’s the part that matters to me, making it real. See you in December, with my nearly completed or completely completed manuscript. For November it is mostly periscope down, full bore ahead.

Ridiculous Notions But They are Mine

A few stupid observations that I wanted to blog in order to give them a more permanent form (where permanence is decidedly relative.)

Earlier today I noticed that “Drupal” is an anagram of “Lard up!” which was originally going to be the worst Weird Al parody song of all time.

I posted the other day about how if I were the manager of a Mexican restaurant, every October we’d put a “Chalupacabra” on the menu. I felt clever, until 1) Google showed me plenty of people have discovered this bilingual pun and 2) I heard the very same thing spoken on a Skepticality episode from last week that predated my post by several days. I’m late to this party. And yes, I do understand that it means “Goat chalupa,” which I’d be willing to try.