Oh Goodreads, you so funny.
A wow moment after reading Yahoo News:
Microsoft Corp will invest $300 million in Barnes & Noble Inc's digital and college businesses, valuing them at $1.7 billion. [..] Microsoft will get a 17.6 percent stake in the new unit, while Barnes & Noble will own about 82.4 percent
This has the potential to shake things up big time, if they play it right. Will the Nook become a Windows Mobile device? Will Microsoft use B&N in their phone's media store to take on the iPhone and iTunes? Will this largely ignored mobile platform and this runner-up to Amazon fizzle out? I don't know! The battle lines are being drawn though.
And before anyone asks, yes I know that Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon, I just thought it was a fitting image!
I know this is rather beyond the scope of a weblog of nerdish interests, but this story really grabbed my attention over the last few days. It also gives me an excuse to an impromptu book review!
Artsy image of the Goldman Sachs headquarters by Quantumquark on Wikimedia Commons.
For those of you who don't follow this kind of thing (and I don't blame you!), a former worker at the investment bank Goldman Sachs has publicly come out describing the firm with some... rather choice words.
From a Reuters report by Douwe Miedema and Lauren Tara LaCapra, which you can tell because the first word of the report is "Reuters":
(Reuters) - Goldman Sachs faced an unprecedented assault from one of its own on Wednesday after a banker published a withering resignation letter in the New York Times, calling the Wall Street titan a "toxic" place where managing directors referred to their own clients as "muppets."
Disgruntled staff talking bluntly about their previous place of employment is hardly new, but these comments from Greg Smith made me raise an eyebrow. If I were capable of raising a single eyebrow. I tried my best to teach myself as a kid, but I never could do it. Perhaps I should have spent that time studying finance. But I digress.
One of the first books I read when I procured a Kindle was "Money and Power". In the book, William D. Cohan outlined in painstaking detail the history of Goldman Sachs, paying particular attenton to the course of events that led to what the firm is today, how they bundled and marketed all their derivatives into "products", as well as opinions internally and externally about the firm. I find myself shaking my head in disbelief at times, but there was no doubt it was fascinating.
The recurring theme from the book was the idea senior management (the "partners" everyone strove to be) wanted to give the impression that the firm only succeeded when their clients did. There were some glaring examples of where this clearly wasn't true; such as their numerous conflicts of interest.
Still, the press release from Goldman Sachs in response to Greg's comments seemed to reinforce this sentiment. Good heavens, that was a long sentence.
"We disagree with the views expressed, which we don't think reflect the way we run our business. In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves."
This is where it gets interesting though. Read this report much further, and towards the end we get this comment from a banker at a competing institution:
"In my experience ... client success and firm success can peacefully coexist; in fact thrive," Harris Private Bank Chief Investment Officer Jack Ablin said in an open letter.
Note the wording. Mr Albin didn't say client and firm success "always coexist", or "needs to coexist", he said "can coexist". That suggests the capability to coexist, but whether or not that's what happens in the real world is another point entirely.
Perhaps I'm reading a little too far into a single word, but it sounds like political speak to me. You don't want to admit your firm is doing something, but on the other hand you don't want to deny it and later be called out for it.
In any case, Jack Albin doesn't work for Goldman Sachs, but I think he spoke an untold truth of the whole investment banking community with that comment. No doubt Goldman's PR department would be far too sharp to let such a comment slip ;).
Felix Tanjono — a most agreeable acquaintance in primary school — and I were told of your escapades from your colleague Dr Watson when we were in primary school. At least one part of that sentence was entirely superfluous.
I will be watching your BBC series as soon as time permits good sir. I'll find my own way out, though tell me... how do I get past this stack of paper?
More than I've ever seen before, people are making New Year's resolutions for social media. Guess saving money, being a better person and losing weight are far too passé now ;).
Terrible graphic created by... me! Photo taken during the Family Fireworks on New Year's Eve in Sydney 2011, bird is the Twitter logo. Also, the word.
This meme seems to have the most traction of all the ones I've seen. More have tweeted and shared this story than... something cool people tweet and share. I wouldn't know what cool people do.
It does seems the irony is lost on some that the meme is being propogated to promote a hardcover book of the same title. Yes, to reduce our information intake, we need to read a book we otherwise wouldn't have read! Reminds me of those self-help books on how to make money and/or reduce clutter. I've got a great idea, don't buy books that will clutter up your house!
According to the author of the tome on various websites, the book discusses how to reduce our intake of pointless information, such as notifications from Facebook and other social networks. Sounds like attacking the symptoms rather than the cause of alleged time wastage, but that's just me.
In any event, I've seen this shared so many times, I've decided to pledge here to increase my information intake for 2012 instead. With SeaMonkey taking care of my RSS feeds and with my recently updated Twitter lists, I'm all set! And I didn't even need to buy a book to convince myself :)
Did 2011 mark the high point of oversharing? That seems to be the lesson behind a couple of studies that examined the New Year's resolutions of social media users.
If we're supposed to share less with fewer people, @hanezawakirika wouldn't have shared this article, so I wouldn't have found it, and I wouldn't know I was supposed to share less with fewer people!
So after reading these, I've decided to come up with a series of personalised New Year's resolutions. Here they are, in decending alphabetical order.
Thank you, thank you.
Given I've had my Kindle for just over a week now, I thought I'd do a quick followup review that follows up my previous review. Well that and the title were superfluous.
(Disclaimer: The screen and buttons aren't scuffed, I've just kept the original temporary plastic film over the device until my Kindle screen protector is delivered. Yes, I don't want any scratch marks on this screen that I'll be looking at for hopefully many years!)
As I said before, one of the reasons for getting the Kindle was my increasing addiction to eBooks on my iTelephone, particularly when I'm on the train or waiting at banks, etc. The convenience of whipping out the Kindle from my pocket and reading a book where I left off on a beautiful, sharp screen that looks like paper has been nothing short of glorious. Given I tend to read a novel and non-fiction book at the same time, the device is a fraction of the weight of two tomes, and infinitely more portable.
Synching has also been very simple. I've started organising books into folders by author, and renaming all the .mobi files by removing author names. The Kindle picks up these books in subfolders without any problems. I've also added the Kindle's folders to my global rsync backup program, so whenever its plugged in, the books are backed up onto my file server. Can't do that with paper!
One practical consideration has been the lack of a backlight. The very feature of LCDs that allows books to be read in the dark also causes much of the eye strain. In lieu of a booklight or case with a light, I bought a warm coloured, low wattage lamp for the side of my bed that creates enough ambient light to read by. Its rather nice in the evening to have the room bathed in this mild glow and reading for a couple of hours.
Which brings us to how well it has functioned as an ebook reader for me. In the week and a few days I've had it, I've read three novels cover to cover, and one of them was a Michael McCollum! The barrier to entry for reading is obviously that much lower, at least for me.
I often read people's lamentations that ebook readers aren't as good as books, but I argue they're better. The Kindle 4 is lighter than even a paperback which lends itself well to holding up in bed, and lightly tapping a button is so much easier than holding a book open and turning pages, particularly in confined spaces like train seats.
The next step is to review the books I've been reading, and to potentially make a list here :). I suppose I could resurrect my Listal account, they're owned by Amazon now aren't they?
After months of mulling (as distinct from mulleting), I finally caved today and decided on a Kindle!
I used to read obsessively as a kid, but when I started university I tended to read fewer novels. Partly due to a lack of spare time, partly because I was always moving around and didn't have the luggage space to be carting around books on camels like a certain person.
With the iPhone 4 and iBooks though, I started reading more. The convenience of whipping out my phone on a train, when I was waiting for the train, during boring meetings or lectures (you didn't read that) and reading a book was marvelous. The relatively poor phone reception in the Airport and East Hills tunnel (particularly during the morning rush) also lent itself well to consuming pre-downloaded material!
As I started getting more serious though, the deficiencies of using the iPhone as a book reader became more evident. The super high pixel density meant text was ultra sharp and readable, however having to turn the page each time I finished a paragraph started to get old. Using it obsessively as a Twitter client also meant it often didn't have the juice to read a book on the train ride home. In the late evening in bed, even at the lowest brightness the screen still had too much glare to look at.
I could have got an iPad, but the Kindle appealed to me for its eInk display, huge battery life, and the fact I could probably fit it into my pocket... I hoped! My iPhone 4 is already a twittering, internet using machine for the go, all I wanted was something that would let me read.
This afternoon I came home with a Kindle 4, the current low end iteration of the ebook readers that have taken the tech world by storm. Which could be dangerous, because lightning bolts could cause serious damage to kindling, and its surrounds.
Firstly, the packaging wasn't quite as elegant as an Apple product (nothing else ever is), but it was nevertheless clever and fun to open. Some people scoff at this, but in many East Asian cultures the wrapping of a present is often just as important as the present itself! Scoff if you must, I don't care :).
Reading the 170g weight in the product specifications did not prepare me for just how light the device is. Feeling it in my hand, it weighed less than my iPhone 4! As an added bonus, not only do they fit into the leg pockets of my tactical pants, but in the regular side pockets as well! I can see myself taking this thing everywhere, which means I'll be reading far more too.
Syncronising was also also a snap. One of my few gripes with Apple hardware since my first iPod in 2003 was the need to use iTunes; the Kindle merely appears on the desktop as a USB device which you use to transfer your files. That's it! I have to admit I was unreasonably happy by this.
The screen is what blew me away the most though, as one would expect. Loading up some P.G. Wodehouse, Bill Bryson, Michael McCollum and picking up right where I left off, the difference in legibility and the extra screen real estate compared to the iPhone was incredible. I adjusted the default font size a point lower, and was charging through pages like nobody's business.
Like the iPad, I think eInk is the kind of technology one has to see for themselves and use to truly appreciate it. It really does just look like a sheet of paper, and save for the small screen refresh flash (which I got used to fairly quickly), holding it in your hand it looks like a real novel. Given I only bought electronic copies of McCollum's works for example, it finally felt as though I had a real version of one of his books, in my hand. It was rather wonderful to say the least :).
Given I've had this less than 24 hours I was bound to run into n00b problems, but just a few quick ones.
Firstly, I couldn't figure out how to leave the screensaver mode, and searches in the Amazon support centre returned a frustratingly thin list of irrelevant entries when I tried searching. Turns out, to leave the screensaver you press the power button on the bottom of the device.
Secondly, and this is still unresolved, I've been unable to enter the password for our home WiFi connection because I haven't found a way to enter a vertical bar/pipe "|" character on the virtual keyboard. For now its not a concern because I've just been loading books through the USB cable, but it's still a pain.
Anyway, having lots of fun and can't wait to snuggle up in bed with some books that weigh even less than a paperback! No doubt I'll be posting more about it in the future.
Last night Asia/Pacific time, Amazon released their much anticipated Kindle Fire tablet. Allow me to pontificate!
Looking at the machine, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the price. The iPad took what was essentially a dead market segment thanks to Microsoft's Windows Tablet PC initiative and reduced the price significantly, so much so that Android tablet makers have found it hard to compete on this metric at all. Amazon has reduced the price with the same order of magnitude.
One expects Amazon to be selling these as a loss leader in the hopes people will buy enough content from them to make up the difference. With the exception of Nintendo of late, most console manufacturers have been doing this for years, with mixed results.
If anything this serves to highlight the difference between the three companies. Google gives Android away to sell you to advertisers. Apple provides a media store to sell you hardware. Amazon provides the hardware to sell you media. Three entirely different business models, the latter of which I have to say excites me the most to be honest ^_^.
The Kindle Fire is based on Android, but with a completely different UI. While other OEMs have installed their own interfaces on Android to address some of the platform's usability issues and to differentiate their products from the hurd (sorry, bad joke even by my standards), Amazon have taken it one step further and created their own system with Android as a buried base, rather than a front-row-centre feature.
This means no Google Marketplace, their own browser and an entirely different interface written for content consumption. While I'm sure Google is pleased insofar that their software is being used on such a potentially lucrative device, you've got to think they're a little wary not getting a cut of any of the sales of media on the device, and no advertising revenue. To Google, this might be just as bad as companies taking Android and replacing all the Google branded products with Chanandler Bing.
Still, I suppose we can assume Amazon is one of the companies that's given access to the closed Android source thesedays, now that the platform doesn't even conform to Google's own definition of open. That's okay though, because they're not Apple.
Rather than taking on the Swiss Army Knife iPad which no manufacturer has been able to do without misrepresenting their sales numbers and "brazenly copying" the interface, Amazon has once again made a product that fits a specific niche. The Kindle did this with books; while the iPad can be used in this capacity the Kindle's eInk display arguably provided enough of a superior experience that they were able to sell well even when the iPad was introduced.
The question becomes whether their colour tablet will also fill enough of a perceived niche to compete with the iPad. The price already makes it far more attractive than the iPad if the device does all you need it to, and if Amazon can use some of their secret sauce to make it an ultimate media consumption device, potentially this could also be a hit.
That is, of course, if the creaky old publishing business doesn't get in the way, and they expand outside their core markets. There's no point selling a loss leading device in markets where they can't buy your content!
As for me, I'm more interested in getting one of their new non-touch eInk Kindles when they reach us here in Australia. As much as I've tried reading the epic Peter Hamilton and Michael McCollum on my iTelephone in bed, I just can't!
As I blogged about in February, Borders had clearly seen better days in Australia and are now in the process of closing down. I headed into their Bondi Junction store today to grab some bargains, and to explore a familiar setting one last time.
Of course, I couldn't have timed my expedition any worse! Bondi Junction is served by the Eastern Suburbs and Illawara line, which CityRail decided to perform track work on this weekend. Unlike most of the industrialised (or developing) worlds where train work is done overnight so as not to inconvenience ticket holders and taxpayers, CityRail regularly performs such work in broad daylight. Worse still, they replace eight double deck carriage consists with single buses that seemed to arrive and leave as they pleased. I've been to Canberra, and if they can operate buses to a fixed schedule, then surely an operation as large as CityRail could!
To their credit the Bus Marshals couldn't have been friendlier, and the one who served us at Central bore an uncanny resemblance to TechTV and TWiT luminary Leo Laporte. They could have been separated at birth, and raised in different countries. But I digress.
For those not from Australia, Bondi Junction is one of these upmarket mega shopping centres you would expect to find on Orchard Road or Jalan Ampang. The Borders itself is located at the end of one of the buildings. At its peak it was operating over two floors, though the top floor was empty by the time I got there.
Much of the stuff had already been sold (including a substantial amount of furniture!) but there was still enough there to occupy my time for a while. A couple of friends from my university and I explored the manga and computer book sections without much success, in the former were series we'd never heard of and plenty of Ken Akamatsu which we've all read but would never admit to (whoops), and in the latter there was almost nothing but thick blue Microsoft training tomes remaining! In year 11 and 12 I had to do several assignments in .NET, so I know of those books all too well!
Walking around with most of the shelves empty, burnt out light bulbs on the storefront sign, carpets askew, posters torn and hanging at weird angles, empty powerboards, hazard tape across entire sections, row after row of boxes... it felt eerily dystopian, like the rapture had happened for real this time.
I left with three manga volumes overall, for $18! That's a tad more that I would spend on a single volume in Kinokuniya or any of the small comic book stores in town! One was a copy of The Star Trek Manga which I disgust myself as a Trekkie for not knowing that it even existed! I don't remember the female characters being quite so... shapely, but the caricatures of Spock and Kirk are eerily accurate!
The other two were the first two volumes of Shakugan no Shana; I absolutely loved the anime with its Rie Kugimiya voiced, ultra cute zettai ryouiki heroine, but as is typically the case I was told by many a fan that the manga was better. Flipping through the books while waiting in the queue I could tell the graphics and art are just gorgeous! :)
Now if only I had arrived there sooner, or had the trains been running as they should have been, perhaps I could have snagged some K-On! I mention this because one of the employees I talked to claimed two people between them had emptied out all the stock of basically every manga volume that Kyoto Animation had since got their hands on. You know the ones of which I'm referring ;).
With our recent move back to Australia it was mighty tempting to purchase some genuine Borders bookshelves or some of the signs that graced them, but money is a little tight for us right now (international moves and taxes are fun!), and given I had to get a CityRail replacement bus home with less space to breathe than a sardine tin, I wouldn't have been able to transport them home even if I wanted to! The only sign I was tempted by was a giant white on black ANIME AND MANGA sign, though some of the letters were scratched up. In hindsight it may have been nice to have anyway, just for nostalgia. I'm a sucker for that you see. Oh well.
Granted it was in their branch at Wheelock Place in Singapore, but I spent a large amount of my childhood exploring Borders. I can still remember when they first opened there with much pomp and celebration, and how crazy my little mind thought it was to have a bistro in a coffee shop! Sure Meg Ryans in Brisbane where we'd lived previously had coffee in the shop, but I had a smoked salmon and sour cream pizza with capers and onion, right next to the non fiction books!
Kinokuniya across the street in Ngee Ann City (the red building with Takashimaya) had a wider selection of books, particularly technical manuals, but Borders felt cozier. I bought (and read!) my first O'Reilly programming books in their computer section, and bumped into my first crush there. When high school came around and much of my cohort were experimenting with nighclubs and alcohol, I was spending my Friday and Saturday nights with my good friend Felix Tanjono exploring until they closed at 11pm. When my mum had those brief breaks from her chemotherapy in the 12 years she was having it, we'd make it a date and wander around there together.
I know it's not politically correct or cool to like chain stores, but Starbucks and Borders and Ikea were where I grew up. I'll be sad to see Borders go.
Someone should write a book about it! Or if its an ebook, should it be type about it? Ruben so funny.
I keep reading report after report that books are dying and ebooks are outselling them. People are retweeting it, blogging about it, talking about it, retweeting it while blogging and talking about it. The story is everywhere, it has even started to creep into newspapers, those old fashioned paper things with ink they make out of dead trees. Problem is, as with most stories passed off as journalism thesedays, while there's a grain of truth to it, the overarching conclusions are entirely wrong.
I know I already gave away the answer to this post's title question in the title (whoops), but in case you need to see it again:
So where did this story come from? As usual a press release! This one comes direct from Amazon's PR department. I would include the link, but if you escape all their ampersands so your XHTML validates, it breaks the page.
The page you are requesting has invalid parameters
Click << Back to return to the page from which you came
Other people can get around this, but allegedly the designer of the super duper reliable Amazon Web Services system can't parse well formed earls. Oh well.
Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.
So there you have it, these news stories and headlines and people foaming at the mouth all excited that ebooks are outselling books have based their entire argument on the fact that a single retailer (albeit a large one) is selling more ebooks on their wireless device than regular books.
I reckon we have a long, long way to go before ebooks outsell their dead tree brethren. Why? I'm glad you asked! Some people...
Then there are the legal advantages. Some...
Whatever the case, despite being a guy living and breathing all this tech stuff, and despite personally reading virtually all my books of late (including the entire Gibraltar Earth series) on my various iDevices with my eyeDevices, I doubt we'll see ebooks outsell books at least for the foreseeable future. Maybe they will and I'll be proven wrong, but I'm not holding my breath... because I'm not very fit.