Wednesday, July 28, 2010

E-book News

Recently Amazon.com has been in the news because of its e-books. First comes the announcement that the rate at which its e-books outsells hardcovers is increasing. Of course, print in general is still king, both in numbers of sales and dollar amounts, but the Amazon Kindle is definitely helping the e-book market grow exponentially.

Second is the news that Swedish author Steig Larsson has become the first to have a million downloads on the Kindle. His Millennium Trilogy (the final installment being The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) has grabbed the imaginations of readers world-wide, though sadly he passed away before having any idea his books would become an international phenomenon.

So with Amazon doing such great sales of Kindles and e-books, you'd think electronic texts would be all the rage. That isn't necessarily the case, however. According to a Mashable poll, their readers prefer print. The results are actually pretty close:

With 41.9% of the tallies (898 votes), the printed book was the clear favorite over the e-book’s 23.24% of the ballot (498 votes). Interesting enough, a lot of you voted that you like both formats for reading your favorite novel; 34.86% of you (747 votes) said that it was a tie between the e-book and the print book.
(They have a nice little graph if you click the link above, for you visual learners.)

How would you answer Mashable's poll? What is your preferred format for reading? Does it matter if you're reading for pleasure or not (say, textbooks for class versus the latest thriller)? How about books versus magazines or newspapers? If you do read e-books, what device do you prefer (something similar to a book like a Kindle or iPad even, or your smartphone)? Please leave your answers--with reasons--in the comments.

Personally, I prefer print. I have a hard time digesting information from a screen, although I do read the news and sometimes magazine articles online. But for pleasure reading and for in-depth absorption of information, I need a paper-and-ink book. It's portable and doesn't strain my eyes; I can leave a bookmark in it, take notes in the margins, and flip ahead or back as needed; it's free at the library and I can return it when I'm finished; and if I forget it somewhere, it's only one book to replace instead of many plus the device.

Updated 7/30/10: In an interview with USA Today, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos predicted that e-books will surpass paperbacks within a year and the combined total of paperbacks and hardbacks shortly thereafter. Read the rest of the interview.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review - "The Birth of Love" by Joanna Kavenna

Joanna Kavenna juggles three storylines across three periods of time, and somehow manages to make them intersect. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is in a mental institution in nineteenth-century Vienna because he proposed the idea that doctors should wash their hands after performing autopsies and before assisting in childbirth. Brigid Hayes, in present-day London, tries to go about her normal routine of caring for her young son even as labor pains begin. Over a century in the future, on an Earth that regulates birth and has reduced familial terms to scientific ones, two people have been taken prisoner for assisting a pregnant woman and witnessing the birth.

Each story is written in a different style, and some read more easily than others. Even without the connecting threads, they would be compelling. One almost wished Kavenna had written three separate novels in order to flesh out the worlds more, although she probably would have had to use a different style in order to keep the reader's attention through a book-length story.

Childbirth is the most elemental fact of life, well, along with death. Everyone is born and everyone dies, and everyone is touched by birth, including infertile couples, who struggle with the knowledge that they can't participate in that elemental fact of life. In Kavenna's book, some of the characters are not mothers, yet they are impacted by childbirth all the same. Kavenna also explores the relationship between mothers and children, more specifically sons. Pick up this book if you like literary novels or books that take risks stylistically. Feel free to skim--or even skip altogether--the sections that don't pique your interest, but realize you may be missing a fresh take on the subject of birth and motherhood.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finding Electronics Reviews

You're in the market for a new piece of equipment of some kind. You probably have a budget, you may know some brands you're interested in and possibly even some specs, but how do you know you're getting the best deal? Try some of these websites for up-to-date reviews.

Consumer Reports is the standard when it comes to testing, reporting, and evaluating. You can see articles on what to look for when buying and some suggestions of good brands, but if you want the famous CR ratings and in-depth reviews, you'll have to become a subscriber.

So where else can you go for free?

Wired magazine is known for picking out cutting-edge gadgets and quirky tools, but their website also has reviews of everyday electronics. Click "Reviews" (kind of in the center of the page), then browse for what you want. You can narrow by price or manufacturer or possibly by other features depending on the product. Reviews are basic, but pros and cons are spelled out at the end.

PCMag brings its print information to the web. Click the "Reviews" tab and browse for your electronic item. You can narrow or sort by price, or sort by rating or date. Compare products to see which one suits your needs the best. You can also keep up with technology news and read shopping guides. Reviews here are more in-depth than at Wired, and the pros and cons are listed first. You might even be able to buy your product from sellers listed in the review.

CNET is probably the biggest and best known review website. Click the "Reviews" tab, then browse by category. You can also catch up with tech news and find all sorts of useful software downloads. The neat thing about CNET is its compare feature. Instead of checking off items, as you click to view products, that list you end up generating is saved for you--look for the "Recently Viewed Items" button at the bottom of the screen.

Each website is similar in its bottom line of offering tech reviews, buying guides, and news, but the presentation differs. Check out a couple the next time you're in the market for a gadget and see which site  you like best.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review - "The Rebellion of Jane Clarke" by Sally Gunning

It's 1769, and twenty-two-year-old Jane Clarke isn't sure what she wants. She knows she's not interested in Joseph Woollen. Her father wants her to marry Phinnie Paine, who will also take over her father's mill, but when attempting to engage Phinnie in a discussion over events in Boston and getting only noncommittal replies, Jane isn't sure she wants Phinnie either. She does enjoy nursing, so when her father gets angry because she's spurned his chosen one and sends her to tend to Aunt Gill in Boston, Jane decides to make the most of the opportunity.

She journeys by boat from her home in Cape Cod to the town of Boston, which is fast becoming the center of tension between the King's soldiers and many of the colonists who are starting to think of themselves as Americans and not as Englishmen. Aunt Gill's household includes Martha and Prince, who seem like they have something to hide, but Jane does her best to protect her aunt from whatever schemes they're concocting. She also meets Henry Knox at the bookshop where Aunt Gill gets her writing paper. A deep friendship blossoms, and Jane begins observing relationships and marriages and tries to figure out what she would like for herself.

Jane is thrust into the swirl of public opinion when she unwittingly becomes an observer of the set-to soon known as the Boston Massacre. What she witnessed is not exactly like the rumors going around town, and she is pressed to give testimony. She does so in court, and in the process she comes into herself as an adult with a mind of her own and not as a child still under her father's thumb.

Lovers of historical fiction will find much here to enjoy. The reader is immersed in life in Colonial America, with all the mud and slop and hard kitchen work, but also with the ideas of freedom and self-rule taking hold. Marriage is a running theme, from Jane's father and stepmother to patriot James Otis and his loyal wife to Jane's grandparents, Lyddie and Eben Freeman. The definition of home also pops up, with the patriots turning their backs on a land they have never seen and with Jane needing to find her place in the world.

Jane herself comes across as something of an indecisive wimp, but then she is also a woman a little ahead of her time. She is definitely of marrying age, but she wants more than just a marriage of convenience. She wants a man who loves her and who will engage her as a person with a mind of her own. She wants independence and a useful occupation, so at least she does have her nursing. She feels pulled in different directions by the men in her life, such as her patriot brother, but in the end she does what is right for her.

Pick up this book if you like historical fiction or if you like your female characters empowered but not overpowering.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

MapQuest

Mashable recently blogged about the new and improved MapQuest. They include screenshots if you want to take a quick look. If you want to try it out for yourself, head over to the new MapQuest Maps.


 I used to use MapQuest all the time, but at some point it became easier to use Google Maps, probably because I was using Google for searching anyway. The new MapQuest looks a lot like Google Maps with a few tweaks. You type your address into the box on the left, then the map on the right shows you where you're going. You can see a satellite view or a 360-degree view (if it's available for that area). You can email the map or post it to Facebook or Twitter.

One neat thing is the menu of options at the top of the map. Choose from icons such as hotels, parking garages, dry cleaners, ATMs, shopping centers, and lots more. Each one you select then becomes a tab above the searching area for easy management.

Give it a try!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reading on a Screen versus in Print

I saw this Mashable post recently: Kindle and iPad Books Take Longer to Read than Print [STUDY]. Jakob Nielson conducted a study that found reading speed decreases for electronic devices when compared to print. That is, it takes longer to read something on a device - in this case, either a Kindle or and iPad - than it does a book, anywhere from 6 to 10 percent longer. However, user satisfaction with those devices when compared to a book is about the same.

Personally, I have a harder time reading on a screen, which is one reason why I'm not anxious to get an e-reader. But maybe that's just my age and the time I grew up in, or maybe it's my fondness for physical pages. What about you? Do you have a preference of one format over another? Please feel free to explain in the comments.