Kindle Fire Getting Netflix

Due to the relative paucity of information regarding precisely what applications will be available for the Kindle Fire, speculation was rampant. The biggest question for many people: would Netflix be allowed to compete with Amazon’s own video offerings? This morning, the answer arrived: yes.

Rest easy, pre-ordering early adopters; the Fire will not be a complete walled garden for you. Considering that B&N also has a curated app store for the Nook Tablet, this puts them on a relatively even footing in the app battle. That still leaves the subtle differences: Nook is somewhat more powerful and has significantly more storage, but costs more and isn’t named “Kindle.” Does Amazon also benefit from their giant PR blitz, which garnered them a million or so pre-orders before the Nook Tablet was announced? How many people will cancel a Fire pre-order to jump over to Nook? Seems unlikely to me.

Nookindle Fire Tablet

Barnes & Noble just finished their big reveal of the new Nook lineup. The press conference seemed like a lot of poking at Amazon, which is fun to see. The e-ink Nook Simple Touch is getting dropped to $99, which brings it inline with the Kindle Touch. There are a few differences, though – the Nook doesn’t support audiobooks or text-to-speech, but it also doesn’t come loaded with “special offers” at that price. The Kindle costs $40 more to nuke the ads.

Of course, the big story is the new Nook Tablet. Surprisingly, they aren’t putting the Nook Color out to pasture; it becomes their entry-level color device instead. The Nook Tablet gets twice the RAM and twice the storage of the Kindle Fire, as well as an expansion slot. Those are the most obvious differences in the hardware. The screen is supposed to be slightly better, and the CPU is 20% faster, but those differences are a bit harder to notice I’m betting.

The ecosystem is one of the deciding factors for these semi-mobile devices, and that’s going to be interesting to see work out over the coming months. Now that both retailers are going to have similar devices on the market simultaneously, the head-to-head competition will heat up more than it has in the past. When there was no color or touch Kindle, it was easy to dismiss the competition as being too dissimilar to really count.

Ecosystems…Amazon has their Prime program, which gets them an annual subscription fee and which gives the customer a variety of benefits. There are streaming videos from TV and movies, as well as free two-day shipping of many tangible products from the Amazon behemoth. Most recently, they added a free book “loan” per month (based on the explanation at Good E-Reader, it sounds more like they’ve paid for the books and are giving them away to entice more brand loyalty). Amazon also has their own Android app store, as well as the books they’re known for and their Audible book subsidiary.

Meanwhile, back at Barnes & Noble, they are touting the relative openness of the Nook Tablet in contrast to the curated experience at Amazon. You’ll be able to stream Netflix videos and Pandora music, as well as many other Android apps from the Nook app store. The Nook Color has become well known for being easily rootable; there’s no reason to predict the Tablet will be harder to root as B&N doesn’t try to lock people in as much as Amazon does.

So, the Fire gets you one location with all your media paid for annually and bit-by-bit. Nook gets you several services with their own payment systems and subscriptions, but with more storage and speed for $50 more money upfront. Which model becomes the big winner will be hard to predict, but it sure makes this holiday shopping season more entertaining to watch.

Kindle Pimpin’

Amazon just made life difficult for several competitors, but not Apple. Sorry, anyone looking for the iPad Killer, a 7″ tablet just isn’t the same category.

But, Barnes & Noble – you’ve been served notice now, beyotches. The cheapest Kindle is on sale right now, today, for $79. Cheapest Nook? $139. Oh, that’s gotta hurt. Coming in a month, the Kindle Fire competes directly with the Nook Color. Fire costs $200, or $50 less than the less-powerful Nook Color. There’s another stinging sensation right there.

Meanwhile, the ereader vendors who come out with alternatives, such as the ECTaco, Pandigital, and even venerable Sony brands are going to have a hard time finding buyers when they compete against a $79 Kindle backed by the Amazon bookstore, or the $99 Kindle Touch edition. Heck, the new top of the line e-ink Kindle is only $189 with 3G and wifi (save forty bucks if you don’t mind ads when the screen is “off”). None of the new models from the Amazon competitors include 3G free, and the “but I like to borrow from the library” folks got that problem answered last week when Overdrive’s Kindle support finally went live.

It’s really hard to believe that in November of 2007, $400 bought one of these ugly things, with 250MB of memory:

And in 2011, you can get this for only $79, with 2GB of memory:

I can’t imagine what magic Sony and B&N will have to pull out of their hats to have a chance of competing with Bezos’ latest babies.

Oh, and if you really want a Kindle with a keyboard, the Kindle 3 with Special Offers just got dropped 15 bucks to $99.

Kindle Email

Hey, Kindle users, I have a question for you. The Kindle has this cool feature where you can email things to it (either paid over 3G or free over WiFi). Do you use that feature much, if at all?

This is part of my continuing curiosity about all things ebook, and it seems that Amazon is the only one with an email address the user can shoot things to. With all the reviews for the new touch Nook this week, it just made me wonder if this is a feature that few people would even miss, or if it’s something really important.

Kobo and Nook touch – separated at birth?

Kobo announced the Kobo eReader Touch on Monday; Barnes & Noble announced the Nook Touch on Tuesday. Both use similar technologies, to the point I almost wonder if they’re basically the same device, except for the store each connects to.

Both weigh 200 grams, use a 6″ Pearl eInk screen, have one button on the bottom bezel, and use the nifty infrared touch screen technology that Sony introduced last year. If not for the four buttons on the Sony PRS-650, I’d wonder if both Kobo and B&N hadn’t just nicked Sony’s design. Well, that and the fact that Sony costs twice as much and doesn’t include wifi. The Kobo is $130 and the Nook is $140, while the Sony is $230.

So, this summer you’ll have four different 6″ Pearl eInk ereaders to choose from. Three are infrared touch-screens, and one has a keyboard and is a bit bigger than the other three. The Kindeal is $114 and has a great store integration. Kobo and Nook are in the ballpark and have their own stores as well as compatibility with ePub stores of old. Sony is odd man out, which is par for the course over the past fifteen years.

I can’t help but wonder what Amazon will do next in the ereader war.

Nook Nook Nook

My Kindle is arriving this afternoon, but all the techie ereader blogs are talking about the updated Nook Color firmware/software. I particularly enjoy the idea that $250 is “cheap” in most of the writers’ minds. Sure, if you’re comparing the Nook Color to an iPad or Xoom, $250 is cheaper. But, if you’re comparing it to the new ad-supported Kindle ($114) which starts shipping this weekend, no – it’s not. It’s kind of cool to watch the development of new Android tablets and near-tablets, though. I leave you with this quote from a recent review of the updated Nook:

At $249, the Nook Color is almost an impulse buy. [ed: poor impulse control?]

Time-shifting and place-shifting

The demise of soap operas (of which I was never a huge fan anyway) prompted me to write a rather long-winded piece recently, wherein I decided that DVRs were the final nail in the coffin of long-form serialized daytime dramatic television. Since then, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the disruptive technologies of the recent past and how my childhood differed from my son’s. I was interrupted in this reverie by a phone call, which ended up serving as a perfect example of the major differences.

Caller ID (didn’t exist for my childhood) showed me that The Boy was calling from a friend’s phone. The Boy requested that I bring him a particular toy from his bedroom. I wandered down the hall on my cordless phone (didn’t have that when I was a kid), and found the toy. I said to the child, “You’re at Friend’s house then?” Oh, no – they were at the park. And there went another piece of the implied landscape of my youth – a phone belonged to a location, not a person, when I was a kid.

We had a phone for the family, not for each member of it. We called people at home, and expected the person answering the phone to not necessarily be the person we were going to converse with. This seems to affect telephone etiquette, or my son’s peers are all just clueless gits. I presume the former, out of generosity. When I answer the phone when one of The Boy’s friends calls, it is almost painful to get out of them anything like a coherent statement. You know the kind we were taught to use as kids; something along the lines of, “Hello, this is Gary, I’m calling for James.” What I get now is some sputtering where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pick out the name of the child calling me. More often, it’s incomprehensible or a demand to speak to The Boy, with nothing like an introductory preamble. I’m convinced that all of his friends have their own personal phones now, so they just know to start talking when they answer. *Ring Ring* Look at phone, see it is James. Hey, James, what’s up?  That sort of thing is so completely foreign to us old geezers, even if we are cell phone users. Think about it, how many times do you know who is calling you, and yet the person still goes through the (now old-fashioned) introduction? I predict that the “Hello” when answering the phone may eventually die out entirely, as nobody needs to just answer as if they don’t know who is calling them.

Meanwhile, people talk on the phone an awful lot more than we did. If you were lucky enough to not have siblings screaming at you for their turn, you might be able to have a half-hour conversation on the phone in the 1980s. That was probably all you’d get for a day or more. It’s not that we didn’t have more to say, we just got tired of sitting in the one room where we had a phone for so long. Now that phones are completely untethered from a wall, much less the house itself, why ever stop talking? And so we have people who stick their phones to their heads the moment they are no longer prohibited from doing so. Hey lady, just do the grocery shopping, stop discussing your latest sexual conquest at HEB, huh?

As everyone from Ogg the Caveman until the end of humanity notes, Things Are Different Now. Listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe recently, the youngest member of the crew had no idea what “F Troop” was. Nearly everyone from my generation and before knew the same television (and radio prior to TV) shows as everyone else in their generation. After all, we only had three channels. Shoot, even PBS has only existed since 1970, and for most of its early existence was consigned to the UHF dead zone.

So, we all watched Gilligan’s Island when we came home from school, oblivious to the fact that the show had been cancelled before we were even born. We knew all the characters in the Addams Family, which also ended four years before my birth. Such was the nature of the highly-syndicated rerun system of 1970s afternoon television, in the days before cable.

In pursuit of the desire for more options in entertainment and technology, we seem to have lost most of our generational shared experiences. Just about the only thing that seems to remain is popular music. Whether you like the songs or not, if you’re remotely aware of the outside world, you’ve probably heard Cee-Lo’s F You, or Pink’s F-ing Perfect, or Enrique Iglesias’s Tonight (I’m F-ing You). Yeah, I chose those examples because of my amusement at how far we’ve come in pop music. Not that any of those three actually has the F word in the radio version of the song, but what the heck?

If you ask someone born around 1940 what they remember from their childhood, many of them would reference “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio, listening to Bo Diddley and Elvis, and the films of Hitchock or stars like Cary Grant, and of course Sputnik and Apollo. When you ask someone born around 1970 what they remember from their childhood, you’ll get references to “The Brady Bunch;” listening to Joan Jett,  Johnny Cougar (neé Mellencamp), Madonna, and Michael Jackson; movies like Star Wars, ET, and the Breakfast Club; and the space shuttle (first launch and the first explosion). When kids today look back in nostalgia at the early 21st Century, will any significant percentage be thinking of the same things? Will the customized nature of modern society mean the end of common experiences? And is that even a bad thing anyway?

Ray Bradbury’s Biggest Fan?

For those five science fiction geeks who haven’t seen it yet, may I present the only viral video I’ve heard of devoted to a Golden Age author: Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury. Embedded video after the break, since it is obviously Not Safe For Work (As an aside, this is likely the only time I’ll get to use the category tags of “Literary, Music, Video, and Geek” all on the same post).

Continue reading Ray Bradbury’s Biggest Fan?

Seed Magazine and Science Blogs

I recently noticed that it had been a while since I’d received a new issue of Geek Monthly magazine. Turns out, they went under six months ago.  Huh.  I guess I won’t be getting a refund of my remaining subscription fees. That prompted me to look at some of my other less-established magazine subs, and the only one that was missing was Seed.  Seed magazine was started four years ago as something of a spiritual successor to the 80s gem OMNI.  OMNI was a fabulous combination of science and science fiction, which in later years added far too much pseudoscience and then decided to jump into the “online only” realm before anyone was ready to read magazines online. They are sometimes missed. But this is about Seed.

Seed was pretty decent, actually. They had a lot of good writers working for them, and they seemed to understand the online world fairly well. They created a site which they used as something of cross-pollination project between print and blogging, the much-visited ScienceBlogs. A while back, they lost a few of their high-profile bloggers to Discover Magazine’s active blog portal. It appears that they shuttered the magazine last fall, with the promise that they weren’t going to quit publishing a magazine, they were just reducing the frequency and won’t you just wait until spring 2010 and you’ll get a new issue.  Um…yeah. Still waiting, and there doesn’t seem to be any official word (or at least not findable on their site) about where Seed Magazine went.

Last month, the ScienceBlogs folks noticed a new blog in their midst, one written by PepsiCo. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth, ending with Pepsi’s blog being dropped. This week, there is a bit more of a kerfuffle. It’s a bit vague around the edges, but it seems the need to make money has become more important to Seed Media than any respect they may have had for being a science media focal point. I’m not clear on why this all came to a head today, rather than during the Pepsi Challenge, but a new batch of bloggers have jumped from ScienceBlogs and it’s not looking good for the site as a whole.  Interestingly, the biggest SciBlogger, the one who accounts for over half of their total traffic, has decided to go on strike/haitus rather than quit, but maybe Seed Media can bring ScienceBlogs back from this brink that their own inept management has brought them to. At a minimum, they need to realize that without content, their advertising department is completely worthless.

Meanwhile, where can I get a refund for the remaining issues on my subscription?  Hello?  *knock knock*

Ebooks Race to Cheap

Last week, Barnes & Noble revealed a wifi-only version of their nook ebook reader for “only” $150, and dropped their high-end model to $200.  Naturally, Amazon retaliated this week by dropping their Kindle2 to $190. Update: Now Borders has kicked in a $20 gift card for people buying their Kobo Reader.

Is this the beginning of the price war that finally makes dedicated ebook readers affordable?  I know, the manufacturers currently think “under $200” is affordable, but let’s be honest – it’s a niche. When I can buy a paperback book for 8 bucks, or buy the same book as an ebook for 8 bucks, which one am I going to get? For most of us, the answer is obvious. It would be nice to carry around dozens or hundreds of books in a convenient reader for those times when I find myself looking at the dated magazines of a waiting room, but I’m not dropping $200 for what is essentially the interface to a lending library. Those books on the Kindle and nook aren’t really mine. I can’t sell them, give them away, loan them to people (with very limited caveats dealing with an ecosystem of other ereaders which doesn’t exist), etc. Not to mention, if I’m at the beach with a paperback and something catastrophic happens, I’m out 8 bucks, not 200.

What price do ebook readers need to reach before you’d buy one?

New Job

I realized that I may have mentioned a new job here and there through cyberspacewebland, and yet I haven’t said anything about it since taking the job.

So, here we go… My new job is running a simulator for a war game.  I make airplanes and tanks move around in virtual reality, and send messages that pretend to be from those planes and tanks to other planes or bases.  Troubleshooting new scenarios is a fun little puzzle, ensuring things happen when they’re supposed to and that no aircraft remain in the air without forward motion (hovering C130 anyone?).  It’s fun, at least for me.

And, there’s an RPG propped in the corner of my office.  I’m pretty sure there’s a scene in a Daniel Keys Moran novel like that.

Bletchley Park endangered

Anyone who has read anything of the British crypto effort during WW2, especially regarding the Enigma machine, should be familiar with the name Bletchley Park.  It was the home of the UK equivalent to our NSA, and also housed Alan Turing during the war.  You’d think preserving such an important location would be completely uncontroversial.  Apparently everyone agrees that the site is a wonderful historical locale and its museum of computing is also a great resource.  But, they’re not too willing to pay for it.

The curator says they may be able to keep running for two more years, unless some generous folks step up.  That would be a shame.

Oh, and if you’re not a crypto geek, at least read Between Silk and Cyanide – it’s a fantastic read and a very interesting look at the difficulties of covert agents and how they tie in with the crypto geek culture as well.  Crypto geeks have all read Cryptonomicon, so I won’t bother to link to that one.  🙂

Ventus

Karl Schroeder has released Ventus as a free ebook download.  It’s very good.  If you’re interested in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, post-apocalyptic fiction (not strictly speaking, but a reversion to more primitive life yada yada), or just good speculative fiction about the future of humanity, give it a read.

Now to add a bunch of Schroeder books to my Amazon wishlist…

Scanner Darkly

Of the various Philip K. Dick movie adaptations, I don’t think most really get the Dick vibe. The theatrical cut of Blade Runner, for instance, was altogether too optimistic for a Dick story. Total Recall was not badly written, although the acting and special effects really nuked it for me.  Paycheck was not too bad; very disorienting and off-balance.  Minority Report was coherent and understandable, which isn’t really very accurate either. So, you can imagine how much I enjoyed the Linklater adaptation of A Scanner Darkly.

Not only does the protagonist not know what is going on most of the time, it never does become perfectly clear even at the end of the movie if his perceptions match reality or not. The rotoscoped animation is a perfect way to portray the insanity that the hallucinogenic story needed. Too bad that it didn’t even recoup its budget in the box office, but maybe it’ll get legs on DVD.

Definitely a good movie for those who like Kafka or Dick. Maybe not so much for those who like Grisham or Crichton.

Spelling Matters

Every so often, I run across some spelling error that just screams to be corrected.  I generally abstain, as most people do not take correction well.  I’m going to try to make a list someday, but here are two that made me cringe in the past few minutes:

  • Per Say – it’s “per se” and if you don’t know that you probably shouldn’t be using it.
  • Lead as a past-tense verb. The past tense of lead is led.  The pronunciation of the second, when spelled like the first, is a soft metal.

Are there spelling errors that make you scream?  Not just a simple typo, but when someone actually believes that what they wrote is absolutely correct?

Pooh Problems

This case illustrates much that is incredibly wrong with the current de facto permanent copyright nonsense. A.A. Milne’s granddaughter is trying to wrest control of her dear grandpa’s “intellectual property” from the House of Mouse.

Clare Milne, who was not born when her grandfather died, sought to use a 1976 copyright law to terminate the prior licensing agreement and recapture ownership of the copyright.

So, exactly how does Clare’s assumption of her grandfather’s copyright in any way create an incentive for dear dead Mr. Milne to create more Pooh stories? Those darned zombie authors sure are busy.