Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kindle for the Web

Amazon has launched a Web based version of their Kindle reading app (read more at Kindle for the Web). This one works from a regular browser, and does not require any download. The funny thing is that the button to read a free chapter from a book requires you to be on the non-Kindle page of that book.

If you are on The Girl Who Played with Fire, you see the button labeled "Read first chapter FREE" in the green box (see below).

Example of a Kindle App Embedded:

But if you go to the Kindle edition for the same book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, there is no such box. Which seems a bit odd. The other options for sending the book to any of the supported Kindle Apps is there, but not the option of reading the book on the Kindle Web app.

One of the neatest features of the web app is that you can embed the Kindle Web reader on any web page.
Embed on a web page
Email, or share via Facebook or Twitter

You can change the size of the text, line spacing, and even a color.
The other interesting thing is that you can only read Kindle books that are available on the Amazon.com store. So, you cannot, as far as I can tell, take a book in a PDF format for example and read it on the Kindle Web app. Same is the case for other Kindle Apps actually.

Amazon.com Help: Kindle for the Web Beta

Free Reading Apps

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Food Rules

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

(Could save your health, but destroy the "Nutritional Industrial Complex" - Amazon.com review)
Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

This is a (very) short, handy, easy read, full of common-sensical, practical advice on eating and food, neatly itemized into 64 rules, organized into three categories. The rules are meant for food eaters, for humans. These "rules" will however be anathema to corporations who sell "edible foodlike substances" (author's phrase). This would include corporations like Pepsico, Cola Cola, Dr Pepper, Kellog's, Burger King, Jack In The Box, Wendy's, McDonald's... the list is endless. Corporations who take food and other substances, natural and artificial, synthesized and chemical, mix the two to create something that while edible, is certainly not food as we humans have understood for centuries. Food, rather than being something found in nature that humans have used to feed themselves, has now become a substance that is manufactured by corporations, advertised to the gullible, and distributed to markets from where it is sold to people. A means to an end. The end being profits. Not health. Not well-being.

Though possibly a lot of the content is derived from his earlier book(s). The short (and long) of this book is that processed food is bad for you. No question. Processed food is manufactured to be advertised, to last long, be cheap to make, expensive to sell, to be profitable, and to benefit everyone except you. Reverting to a mostly plant-based diet is good for you. A little meat is not bad. Fishes the most, birds next, cows and other four-legged animals the least. Treats are ok as long as you treat them as treats. Snacking between meals is not good. Seconds are not good. And so on.

This book is a short compendium of 64 rules, broken out into three sections, "What Should I Eat" - with 21 rules, "What kind of food should I eat" - with 23 rules, and "How should I eat" - with the remainder of the remaining 22 rules.

"What this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets. Except, that is, for one: the relatively new (in evolutionary terms) Western diet that most of us are now eating. What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick!" [page 8]

The reason behind this new diet is not difficult to fathom:
"The more you process any food, the more profitable it becomes. The healthcare industry makes more money treating chronic diseases (which account for three quarters of the $2 trillion plus we spend each year on health care in this country) than preventing them. ... But for the Nutritional Industrial Complex this uncertainty is not necessarily a problem, because confusion too is good business. The nutrition experts become indispensable; the food manufacturers can re-engineer their products (and health claims) to reflect the latest findings..." [page 8]

"Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed t get us to buy and eat more by pushing our evolutionary buttons - our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These tastes are difficult to find in nature and easy for the food scientist to deploy, with the result that food processing induces us to consume much more of these rarities than is good for us." [page 13]

"The food scientists' chemistry set is designed to extend shelf life, make old food look fresher an more appetizing than it really is ,and get you to eat more." [page 14]
Some of the rules are:
Part 1 - What Should I Eat?
  • Avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid food products that make health claims.
  • Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
  • Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car (a not so subtle dig at drive-through fast-food outlets)
  • It's not food if it is called by the same name in every language (again, a dig at fast-food products like 'McBurger', 'Big Whopper' etc...)
Part II - What kind of food should I eat
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves ('chutney' for one :-)
  • Don't overlook oily little fishes
  • Eat your colors
  • Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk (none of the garbage that's advertised on television: like "chocos" for example)
  • Eat all the junk you want as long as you cook it yourself
Part III - What Should I Eat" - How should I eat
  • - ... Eat less
  • - Eat slowly
  • - Serve a proper portion and don't go back for seconds
  • - "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper."
  • - Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
  • - Cook
Now, the book is really short. 112 pages. Even less once you take out the index, cover pages, and so on. Possibly less than 80 pages. Much of it is supposedly available in the author's earlier works (In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals). It is priced at $11. And that is probably expensive, for the content and originality. You can buy it from Amazon.com for $4.49, or for $5.48 from Wal-Mart. These represent close to a 50% discount off the list price of the book. At $5 and change it's a bargain, I would submit, even accounting for the fact that much in it is supposedly derived. I say "supposedly" because I have not read any of Michael Pollan's earlier books, ,yet. The other thing going for the book, even despite its size and list price, is the fact that it is really very easy to refer to the book. All you do is flip to a page, any page, and there is advice, pithy and pointed. There is value in that. I would like to read the more detailed, more researched, more argued books like The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, or In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, or The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, but that is not to deny this book's place on your bookshelf.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Highways, Massachusetts

On the road, in the state of Massachusetts, USA. This was Monday, September 6. Labor Day in the US. Which meant that the highways were bereft of vehicles. Much less than on weekdays for sure. Even lesser than on weekends.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Readling List - Jan 2009

Partial list of what I read in January of 2009. Kinda late (you think so???), but thanks to Google Reader (per Wikipedia, it is a web-based aggregator of RSS and Atom feeds that you can read online as well as offline), I do not have to try and remember what I read, or go to my browser history to figure that out.
© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cars in Mirror

Cars as seen in the rear view mirror. At the intersection of Wayside Rd and Cambridge St, Burlington, Massachusetta, USA.

View Larger Map

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cars on Truck

Eight Jeep Grand Cherokee SUVs on a truck, on their way to a Chrysler dealer. That's right - this is not some rich dude showing off his collection of cars. Nor is this some new, fuel-efficient way of motor transportation.
Near Boston, USA.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barnes and Noble, Nashua, New Hampshire

This is the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Nashua, New Hampshire, USA.
Browse the aisles.
Check out the bargains.
Have a coffee.
Take in the atmosphere.
The quiet.
The solitude.

View Larger Map

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Amazon Kindle - In Stock Now

I had blogged (The Kindle - Still Sold Out) that the new Amazon Kindle e-book reader sold out within a week of its launch. It continued to be sold out till Sep 16, showing an estimated ship-to date of Sep 20. Now, on the 17th, it shows up as in stock.
Kindle page on Sept 02, 2010. Estimated ship date: Sep 20

Kindle page on Sep 10. Estimated ship date: Sep 24.

In stock, as of Sep 17
This suggests one or more of the following:
1. Amazon has been able to ramp up production of the Kindle, and therefore been able to clear the order backlog.
2. Amazon has moved production from other models to the 6" Wi-Fi model, which has been the biggest selling Kindle.
3. There have been cancellations that have resulted in a shortening and then elimination of the order backlog.
4. Fewer orders have been placed in the recent weeks. The estimated shipping date that Amazon had been stating could have been based on an inflow of orders that turned out to be higher than what they had estimated.

It will be interesting to note how the media interprets this event.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amazon Kindle Review

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation
(Amazon.com review)
I had never used an e-book reader before. Not even a borrowed one. My closest encounter had been on an airplane, seeing a passenger seated with an e-book reader (most likely the Kindle, or perhaps the Barnes & Noble Nook reader) as I walked up the aisle to my seat. So there was a lot to see and take in when I got my Kindle device (Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation).

First impressions. 
The device is small and feels very light in your hands. Dainty might be one word to describe it. Though this is not to suggest that it is flimsy. It feels well-built and sturdy. This is important because you do not want to feel that the seemingly bargain bottom price of $139 means the device is "cheap" or that build quality has been compromised to meet that price. Whether or not the device is actually going to last is quite another thing, but first impressions are first impressions. The page buttons, two on either side of the Kindle, are easy enough to operate, and silent. No deafening 'click' to resonate in the room every time you flip a digital page. There is a small keyboard at the bottom. The keys are circular. And tiny. But enough spaced apart that typing is easy enough. But requires a little practice.
There is a micro-USB slot at the bottom of the Kindle that you can use to connect to your computer. The other end of the cable that ships with the Kindle allows you to plug the device into the computer for charging or for transferring content. The other end also connects into a power adapter that you can plug into your wall socket to charge the Kindle. Neat. Also present is a slot for the headphones to listen to a book, or to music, and a power-sleep-wake slider that also serves as a battery level indicator. Yellow when running, and green when fully charged.

If you have never seen "e-ink" on a device before, then be prepared to be surprised. Why? Because it does really feel like printed paper. Almost. The words almost feel printed on semi-glossy paper. They are that crystal clear. And sharp. You are almost tempted to poke at the words to see if they will peel off. Don't. You don't want to be messing up the display. Leave that bit to the dog. Or the kids. Or that accidental coffee spill. The e-ink display also means that there is no glare. You don't have to adjust the device to avoid the glare of sunlight or even the room light. If the room is well lit then the display appears bright. Not washed out. If the light is low, then you feel the need to turn up the light. This is not a backlit display, so it has to rely on external light to make the text visible. Which also means less strain on the eyes. That has to be a good thing.

One quirk of the e-ink technology is that when you turn a page, the whole page turns 'negative' for a mili-second before the new page is displayed. It's disconcerting at first, but after a few times it sort of recedes into the background, and you don't notice it. When reading a book. However, if you are using the Kindle for other purposes, such as changing the settings, or synching, or adding books to a collection, you will notice that there is a slight flicker as items and text and pictures on the page refresh or change. This is likely a function of both the e-ink technology as well as the processor speed on the Kindle. Again, not an issue if you are reading, but a little bothersome otherwise.

Reading On Monitors, Or Not
Over the past several years we have got used to doing a fair bit of reading on computer screens. On CRT monitors to begin with, and for close to 10 years now on LCD panels. These are all backlit, and the glare can be irritating, and it can be stressful to the eyes. Yet we all spend 10 hours a day or more with our eyes glued to these screens. Whether coding, or emailing, or creating spreadsheets or documents or presentations, or surfing. One thing we don't still do on computer screens is read. Read sequentially that is. We peck and surf. Read a few lines in an email. Hit the reply button. Type in a reply. Hit Send. Alt-tab to the presentation. Add a few lines of text. Hit Ctrl+M to create a new slide. Add more text. Alt-tab to Facebook. Read the latest posts. Click the "Like" button. Alt-Tab to email. And so on. When was the last time you opened a PDF of the user guide that you have been meaning to read for the last one year? And spent an hour going over the manual from the first page onwards? Not very often. And even when you really, really needed to read the guide what do you end up doing? Print the first two chapters and read the paper copy, don't you? Or that 15 page requirements doc? Print it out, read it, red-line it as needed, jot some points, note some questions. Do you really use that Microsoft Word "Review" feature? Well, sometimes. But not very often.

Reading on the Kindle
So how is the reading experience on the Kindle? Once you have got over the excitement of having a new electronic toy in your hands? Surprisingly good. To begin with I read a short story, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", which is available for free as a Kindle book. The wonderful thing is that I got the book on my device in under a minute, and after fiddling a bit with the settings, like changing the text size, I started reading. Less than an hour later, I had finished reading the book. And I now finally understood what Cypher really meant when he tells Neo, "It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye." (The Matrix (1999) - Memorable quotes, The Matrix (10th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray], The Matrix). And I also realized that the reading experience had been very unobtrusive. No glare. No strain on the eyes. This was good.

What can't you read on the Kindle?
Simply put, there are certain kinds of books that you should not read on the Kindle. Firstly, books with color in them. Color photographs. Color graphs. Color not for color's sake, but color that is relevant. The Kindle renders only black, white, and gray. No color. Secondly, books with lots of illustrations. True, the Kindle renders graphics. And does a neat job of them. But the Kindle is really not the device for illustrations. Thirdly, PDFs don't render that well on the Kindle. If you need to enlarge the text size, then the pan-and-zoom mode can be used, but doesn't work that well. It's just, a bit, clumsy.

The Kindle Vs the iPad
The Kindle is no tablet computing device. It's no iPad. It cannot, and should not aspire to be an iPad. It does not either, which is good. The iPad is not a Kindle either. You can get the Kindle reader for the iPad (). But the iPad is not really a specialized reading device. It's fabulous for a hundred other things. And if one of those hundred things that you do on the iPad is also reading, then fine. No issues. You will get by. But if you require a specialized reading device, then go for the Kindle. If you want your Kindle to be also your web browsing device, then it's not going to work out. Even though the Kindle contains a Webkit browser, it's best avoided. The flicker that I described above is going to render browsing pretty much a futile task.

Do you own your books?
The Kindle features DRM (Digital Rights Management), which means that the books are in a proprietary format on the Kindle. When you purchase a book for the Kindle, it comes with restrictions. You cannot share that book with others. Ten years from now you are reasonably sure to still have that first edition Harry Potter hardcover, but there is no guarantee that you will still have that book on your Kindle. Of course, one could argue that firstly, your paper book is going to yellow with age, it is going to get dog eared, it is going to deteriorate with time, none of which is going to happen to your digital book, which is going to be as new and as crisp on its hundredth reading as the first. Secondly, Amazon is more likely to be in business ten years from now than some of its competitors, so there is little reason to believe that Amazon would go and do something silly to hurt its image and customers. On the other hand, the whole concept of DRM goes against what printed books have stood for for centuries. A book can be lent to friends, loaned by a library, resold, all without restrictions, and without fear of an overarching, overbearing big-brother looking over your shoulder. Maybe Amazon does want to sell digital books without DRM, and the publishers are the villains in the saga. Or maybe not. It doesn't really matter in the end. The end is still the same. You buy the book, but you never really own the book.

In summary, the Kindle is perhaps the most perfect e-book reader on the market today. However, five years from now, whether it will survive as this standalone, dedicated e-book reader is debatable. Also, five years from now, the e-book reader itself will likely look very different from the Kindle of 2010. The combination of the device and the price make it, in my opinion, a very good product from Amazon.

Now It’s IPad Guy vs Kindle Gal - Digits - WSJ (Amazon.com ad)
Amazon Exposes iPad Flaw in Kindle TV Commercial | Damego


© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All    rights reserved.