Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When Snuggies Attack

As if the horrific Snuggie, the mutated backwards robe-blanket, wasn't enough...now they're peddling this Baby Bjorn-like version for new moms.

Dubbed the Peekaru (peekaboo? pikachu?), this garment? sling? will ensure that your child will be emotionally scarred from a very, very young age. Imagine the happy family at the older child's baseball game, watching from the bleachers all warm and cozy in their bright, neon-colored Snuggies...and Junior, tucked away against his mother's stomach grinning like a madman from his hidey-hole.

Am I the only one who sees this, and is reminded of the creatures emerging from a torso in the movie Aliens?

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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Elephant In The Room

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."

The natural ending to this parable is that everyone walks away happy, having gained a much greater understanding of what, exactly, an elephant is - by looking at it from the viewpoints of other people. They each "saw" it differently, but the whole - in this case - is much greater than the sum of its parts. It's meant to teach us that, in order to better understand a problem, we must and should look at it from different sides. Far too often, there isn't just a single viewpoint; look at a subject in various ways, and you gain a greater understanding, and perhaps connection, with that thing.

The obvious use of this story is as a metaphor for religion. God (or Yahweh, or Allah, or Buddha, or Wakantanka, or Luna) is that elephant in the room; everyone has an opinion on it, and everyone who does have an opinion thinks that the ear, or leg, or trunk that they're holding is the Alpha and the Omega of how that elephant should be defined.

Someone very near and dear to me is going through a personal crisis of faith. She's being pulled between two worlds, each of somewhat differing views of what her faith should be. Or rather, who her faith should be in. It's my happy role to help guide her onto a path that she feels comfortable with, and if the path I help her blaze happens to take from two different trails...does it matter, if in the end she's reaching the right destination?

I ask, because there is someone else - and the whom, of this, isn't important - who has a completely different opinion of this. To him, there is only one yellow brick road to Oz; there is no deviation from it, and any other road - whether or not that road runs parallel or not - only leads to a dark, dark place. Obviously this person plays an influencing role in my friend's life, and is using that influence to denounce any other way of thought.

Why are some people so focused on the light ahead, they're completely blinded to what they're doing to the people around them?

I take personal umbrage with the idea that the afterlife of the enlightened is this...exclusive club, with a velvet rope outside. And if you aren't a member of this ecclesiastical elite, no matter the person you are inside...you won't get into the club. Instead you'll be damned, and sent to the furnaces.

Because you didn't kiss someone's ring.

I've been called Anti-Christian by some, and I disagree with that description. I have little or no problem with the Christian faith itself; I do, however, have considerable issues with the institution of Christianity, and the ideologies they invoke among their followers. Some of their followers. I have...concerns, about a faith system that encourages converting other people to their way of thinking, even considering it a virtue if not a requirement - and condemns those who do not focus on the elephants leg.

But I'm not here to complain, or argue, about the Church of the Apostles.

My friend is a Christian, and has no desire to...expel herself from the Christian faith. She does follow Christ as her Lord and Savior, and despite my personal views I have no desire to dissuade her from that.

However. That system is at odds with an ever-growing fire inside of her, that perhaps the way of the church she's followed for so long...isn't enough. That there's a more natural way of the world that she feels, deep inside her heart, isn't being nurtured. She's out of balance because of it, because she's felt an emptiness inside that, despite her best efforts, the ways of her belief system hasn't been able to fill.

A feminine principle. A Yin, to Christianity's Yang.

There are vast similarities of the rites of Christianity, to the old rituals of various pagan belief systems; none of these similiarities were happy coincidences, but were carefully orchestrated by those in power, in order to incorporate EXISTING BELIEF SYSTEMS to more easily help people accept the Christian faith. However, unlike most other belief systems Christianity (and the entire Judeo-Christian ideology) rejects the feminine ideal, relegating the role of the Yin - the Goddess - to an afterthought.

I mention this, because there are many others out there who, like this friend, have felt this emptiness and have discovered their inner balance by co-embracing certain pagan beliefs, intertwining them with their Christian faith.

Christopagans, they're called. Or Christian Wiccans, depending on what you read.
They said to Him: "Shall we then, being children, enter the Kingdom?" Jesus said to them: "When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, then you shall enter the kingdom."
- the Gospel of Thomas

Christianity is the New Testament of the Bible, and the New Testament...is incomplete. The Gnostic Gospels - the Apocrypha - are unknown to most Christians, because they were rejected in most cases by those in power, as being too controversial or obscure to be included within the canonical Bible.

It's fascinating that among these texts are various references to disagreements between the Biblical Peter and Mary Magdalene, conventionally thought to be little more than a holy groupie; some, however, believe she was in fact closer to an apostle in status, and perhaps because of this disagreement by Peter (incidently, the actual "founder" of "Christianity" as we know it) the role of women in the teachings of Christ were purposefully downplayed. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Pistus Sophia and the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians all strongly hint at this - and perhaps more importantly, the existance of the Holy Mother as the third figure in the triumvate (replaced in conventional speech as the Holy Spirit).

During Christ's time, there existed in the kabbalastic texts reference to the Holy Spirit as Wisdom; in Greek, Sophos...or Sophia. This Divine Mother was worshipped by the early Christians as the Womb of Life, with the dove as her emissary.

So why, then, is a blending of the feminine principle - now best exemplified by the Wiccan traditions - with the uber-masculine ideologies of Christianity, a BAD thing?

I'll stop now, before I get preachy. This was really intended as a way for me to vent, and a way for a friend to see that perhaps her budding views are not so alien to her traditional beliefs.

And just maybe someone else will see this and begin to question whether his views are maybe - just maybe - more rigid and less accepting/inclusive than he'd like to believe.

Just a thought.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ebooks (vol. 4): Epilogue

Time to round off this series. I've outlined what the technology is, listed the various types of digital readers available, and pointed to places online where you can download ebooks. So what's left?

My own opinion, of course.

The Amazon Kindle is, right now, the undisputed king of the digital jungle. It wasn't the first, but like the iPod it simplified the process. Amazon linking their device to their own online bookstore, and plastering KindleKindleKindle all over their front page, was pure marketing genius.


The original Kindle was as ugly as an 8-track tape. All things being equal otherwise, with the other options available to me there was just no way I could walk around with that monstrosity and admit I paid nearly $400 for it in 2008. It looked like a plastic toy from 1988.

The K2 is sleeker by far, and a bit more modern in styling. But it still doesn't match the overall heft and design of the Sony digital readers. This is a device I'll be carrying around in public a lot - and I do get asked questions about it, constantly. I want a certain wow factor because of how it looks, not just for what it is. The Kindle is more recognizable, certainly - that doesn't make it a better design.

But what about functionality, you cry. It's hard to ignore the wireless network provided on the Kindle; being able to download a new book, on the fly...that's a pretty damned nice feature.

And I wholeheartedly agree. But is it really all that necessary? How often am I outside in a park, and suddenly thinking...I HAVE to get a copy of this book, right now! In a coffee shop reading, and suddenly have an overwhelming urge to download some new titles?

The wireless feature is handy for people who...well, who aren't computer jockeys. They don't spend much time at all on their computers, maybe they're constantly on the go, and need a feature like that.

Provided, of course, they're not travelling outside of the continental U.S. Because the network doesn't work outside of the States. Nor can you buy Kindles outside of the United States, or use a non-U.S. credit card to buy books for it...

My Sony Reader plugs in, downloads any books I have queued to sync, and I'm ready to go. Often I'll browse the Sony ebookstore on my lunch hour online, looking for books I'd like; I'll add most to a wishlist for later, and actually purchase a few for downloading. I can either do it right then, or wait until I get home - where the ebook will be downloaded onto my PC, where I can ALSO read it if I so choose (the Kindle - can't do this).

That wireless browsing also significantly cuts into your battery life.

So you really have to ask yourself whether you need to pay an extra $100 for wireless access to an electronic bookstore from your device.

I'm also not a fan of Amazon's proprietary format model. You're pretty much limited to direct-download two formats, both of which Amazon owns. You can use their email service to send and convert documents in a few other formats, but the device itself isn't designed to handle those formats.

By contrast - and to me, in a very surprising move - Sony has a much more open-ended format model. They do of course have their own proprietary .lrf format, but their device can also view documents in .txt, .rtf, .pdf, and more importantly - .epub.

Why is the latter so important? Because .epub is the format the publishing world as a whole is adopting as their standard. In the near future, this is the format you'll see more ebooks being available as...and if your device can't read it, you'll be behind the curve.

The only other device on the market that even remotely interests me is the iLiad reader. It has a design reminiscent of the Sony, and that Wacom touch screen makes me want to drool. Unfortunately it doesn't support as many formats, and I can't bring myself to buy tech that I can't physically hold in my hands and test before purchasing. I wouldn't be able to tell you where you could buy an iLiad, except for getting one online - which is a flaw, in my eyes, of the Kindle as well. The Sony is available in the Sony Style stores as well as Borders Bookstores, J&R Music here in NY, WalMart, B&H Video...it's accessible.

So there it is. Good luck, I hope this was all helpful.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ebooks (addendum): Samsung Joins In

Samsung is to launch a touchscreen ebook reader to take on the Amazon Kindle.

The new model called Papyrus will launch in Korea in June with the aim to eventually launch in the UK and US.

A5 in size, the model, which will come in a range of colours, will feature a stylus for touching the screen and 512MB of on-board memory for storing content. There is no SD card slot.

Aside from being able to let you read the latest digital versions of your favourite books, the model will also double up as a notetaker, world clock, diary, memo taker, calculator, and contacts making a truly modern day Filofax.

Pricing has yet to be confirmed, but it seems Samsung is being very aggressive, with a $299 price point if and when it makes it out of Korea. The price point would make it $60 cheaper than the Amazon Kindle, although it will lack EV-DO connectivity.

Interesting, except there's no detail on actual specs, and what document formats it would support. We'll see if this becomes a viable competitor, or just B-level device.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Discovery Channel Files Against Amazon Kindle

I don't know how I managed to miss this last week, but apparently Discovery Communications has filed suit against Amazon, claiming that the Kindle(s) infringe on a patent they have on digital security on a device that can deliver electronic books:
Kindle Sparks Patent Suit by Discovery
By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009; Page D04

Discovery Communications sued Amazon.com yesterday, accusing the e-commerce giant of infringing its patent for electronic book technology with the Kindle reader.

Discovery, based in Silver Spring, said Amazon's two versions of the Kindle, as well as its online services related to the e-reader, violate a patent that the media company and founder John Hendricks received in November 2007, the same month Amazon released the first version of Kindle. The patent deals with encryption technology for distributing digital publications.

"The Kindle and Kindle 2 are important and popular content delivery systems," said Discovery general counsel Joseph A. LaSala. "We believe they infringe our intellectual property rights, and that we are entitled to fair compensation. Our tradition as an inventive company has produced considerable intellectual property assets for our shareholders, and today's infringement litigation is part of our effort to protect and defend those assets."

An Amazon spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Discovery is best known for its channel on cable television, and is not seen as an Amazon competitor. But Discovery and Hendricks have been "significant players in the development of digital content and delivery services in the 1990s," the company said in a statement.

"Hendricks' work included inventions of a secure, encrypted system for the selection, transmission and sale of electronic books." He filed for a patent in 1999.

A Discovery spokesman said the company has not developed e-reader technology using the patent. In the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware, Discovery is seeking compensation from Amazon for using the patent, not an injunction to prevent it from selling Kindle.

Amazon's Kindle got attention after its release as a possible replacement for paper-based reading, and its sequel, released last month, won praise for more user-friendly features. But Amazon has been criticized by publishers who say it is trying to avoid paying royalties related to its text-to-speech feature and by consumers who are frustrated that Kindle-ready books are locked to the device with software restrictions. The portable Kindle, which costs about $360, connects wirelessly to Amazon's Web site, where books can be purchased.

The Discovery spokesman declined to say whether the company planned to sue other e-reader makers, such as Sony.

More and more, I'm happy with my decision to go with the Sony. We'll see how this plays out.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ebooks (Vol. 3.a): Google Jumps Into the Fray

This isn't exactly an atomic bomb attack by Sony against Amazon, but it's definitely a precision missile strike. People like numbers, and being able to tell people their library has over 600,000 books - compared to Amazon's 250,000 - is a major selling point. Combine that with Sony's device being able to handle more formats that Amazon...

...now if only Sony could figure out how to ADVERTISE their device better.

NY Times
Sony Reaches Deal to Share in Google’s E-Book Library
Published: March 18, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Aiming to outdo Amazon.com and recapture the crown for the most digital titles in an e-book library, Sony is announcing Thursday a deal with Google to make a half million copyright-free books available for its Reader device, a rival to the Amazon Kindle.

Since 2004, Google has scanned about seven million books from major university and research library collections. For now, however, Google can make full digital copies available only of books whose copyrights have expired.

The books available to Reader owners were written before 1923 and include classics like “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” by Mark Twain, and “The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin, as well as harder-to-find titles like “The Letters of Jane Austen.”

“We have focused our efforts on offering an open platform and making it easy to find as much content as possible, and our partnership with Google is another step in that direction,” said Steve Haber, president of the digital reading business division of Sony Electronics. “We would love to continue working with Google to see how we can get more content for Reader owners.”

The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.

Sony is hoping that the partnership and its newly expanded library help slow some of the Kindle’s momentum. Amazon currently has 250,000 books in its Kindle library, but it stresses that they are the books people are most interested in reading, like new releases and best sellers.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, has said that works in the public domain, like those Google is making available to Sony, are easy to get since there are no copyrights attached.

Google has been working to encode books in a free, open electronic publishing format, ePub, which makes them easier to read on devices like the Reader. The company is aiming to gradually increase the number of copyright-free books in the Google Book Search catalog available to Sony and any other e-book distributor that shares its goals of making books more accessible.

Google is displaying only short snippets on its Web site of books that remain under copyright protection, which are the vast majority of the books it has scanned. Under a sweeping settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by authors and publishers, which has yet to be approved by a judge, Google would have more freedom to sell copies and split the proceeds with rights holders.

A new "store" was added to the Sony library software, effective 9 p.m. Pacific Time yesterday. It will let Sony Reader owners download the 500,000 public domain e-books to their libraries, and their Readers, at no charge. And non-Reader owners, including Kindle owners with the right conversion software for ePub, can also benefit. This is only a part of Google’s library of 1.5 million books, but Google is working to add the rest of the books to this program. Google and Sony did not give a time frame for completion of this project.

This program is part of Sony’s commitment to an open platform, as opposed to the closed platform of its major competitor. The ePub conversion is being done by Google itself, as noted; and Sony and Google are exploring ways to make copyrighted ePub material available.

Sony also will be working with libraries to make the commercial ePub material available in the public library’s typical time limited format for copyrighted material. This is nothing new, it is being done today in conjunction with Overdrive, but Sony would like to make this library interaction easier, perhaps even making it part of the Sony store. No time frame has been set for this.

Sony has also indicated support for the Mac, and said that a Mac version of the store would be forthcoming.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ebooks (Vol. 3): I Know Which Device, but Where to Find eBooks?

So, I've talked about why you might want a digital book reader, and gave examples of readers on the market for you to choose from. Now: where can you go to actually GET ebooks for the reader?

First, I need to make something extremely clear: you will NOT find every book you want in an ebook format. Ebooks have been slow to catch on, especially with bookstores (brick and mortar, AND online) and publishers. Some authors, like Stephen King, have come out strongly in favor of ebooks; others, like J.K. Rowling, have explicitly denied any chance of their books coming out in ebook form.

Also. Ebooks can be free. Some of them. But most aren't. You won't find your latest volume in the Twilight series for free, but you'll likely find them in several formats across various ebooks stores and libraries. Don't expect to always get fantastic discounts for not buying paper, either; I've seen modern releases discounted for as little as 5% off the paper price. On the other hand, I've also seen as high as 70% off the paper price, especially if the ebookstore is pushing a particular author/genre/series. If your reader can support multiple formats...shop around, you might find a better price someplace else.

Classic literature is usually the least expensive to find, and are often the ones you'll find for free. At most, you'll see them being sold for maybe $4, perhaps as little as $1. Buy generic, unless you feel you need to pay more.

Now, I would like to say that certain truths are self evident: that all ebook stores are created equal. That all digital readers are endowed by their creators with comparable digital rights, that among these are PDF, PUB, and DOC files.

But alas, true believers, this isn't the case at all.

Ebooks come in all shapes and sizes, depending on where you find them. And, most importantly: not every reader, can read every format.

Yes, my friends, it's true. We're back to the format wars, only now it's the realm of digital books.

Right now ebooks can be found across the web in the following file formats: HTML, PDF, DOC, TXT, RTF, LIT, PDB, PRC, MOB, EPUB, PPT, DJVU, CHM, WOLF, LRF, and AZW.

Holy ridiculous variety, Batman!

Knowing what formats are available on what reader you choose is very, very important; you don't want to find yourself stuck with a reader that is only good for reading PDF documents, and then you're unable to find a library/bookstore where you can get books you want in that format.

Of course, ve haff vays uff circumventing that...but I'll talk about that later.

Here's a list of the largest repositories of ebooks; there are a lot more than these out there, and you can feel free to Google your little hearts out. These are simply the bigguns, the Borders/Waterstones/Barnes & Nobles of the ebook world, and in some cases - the only place you can go. Read on, McDuff.

1. Amazon
Gee, what a surprise to find them here, right? Amazon is probably the biggest online retailer for books, and you shouldn't be surprised that they also have the largest ebook library at over 245,000 titles for sale. Unfortunately there is a catch: Amazon's ebooks only come in Amazon's proprietary .azw format. Annnnnnnnnd now, for the grand prize...can you guess which device is the only device able to read this format? Yes, you guessed it: the Kindle. It's the Apple iTunes model - build the largest library, build the only device that supports it, lock people into a sales loop. And good luck circumventing their format, because the Kindle ebookstore doesn't download to your desktop - it wirelessly syncs to your Amazon/Kindle account, and sends your books directly to your registered device.

2. Mobipocket
Mobi has been selling ebooks since 2000, well before there were dedicated reader to use them on. They were originally designed for PDAs, the predecessor to today's Smartphones - so were well ahead of the curve when the digital reader revolution began. Their library has over 120,000 titles in the .mob and .prc format...and were bought by Amazon in 2005. Which goes at least half the distance to explaining why Amazon has such a large ebook library, compared to others in the market.

3. Sony Ebook Store
Poor Sony. They were the first big name on the ebook reader scene with their device, and now it's like being Stephen King's cousin, Sammy King - write all the books you want, you'll still just be in someone else's shadow. They've worked out an association with Borders Bookstores, which I'm hoping will see their library exponentially increase over the coming year; Sony's ebook store has close to 100,000 titles, which download in their .lrf format. To their credit, however, Sony has given up the ghost of proprietary formats fairly quickly (given their history), and made their reader much more multi-format compatible. They've also come out in support of the .epub format, which is slowly - sloooowwwwwwlyyyy - inching its way to becoming the industry standard; their device also supports the Adobe Digital Editions/PDF formats. You do, however, need to install Sony's Ebook software to download books.

4. Fictionwise
Fictionwise is the dark horse in this race; opened in 2000, they don't have the largest library of ebooks at around 59,000 titles. What they do have is the largest format support of any other ebook retailer. They sell ebooks in both device-specific encrypted form and unencrypted forms, and in a choice (depending on a title's format availability) of: .lrf, .mobi, .prc, .lit, .pdf, and a few others (.kml, .rb) I haven't seen. Also, and perhaps most importantly: on March 5th of this year, Fictionwise was acquired by Barnes & Noble. I particularly find this somewhat amusing; in 2003, B&N pulled out of the ebook market, complaining that "manufacturers have not yet made a device that consumers embrace on a wide scale."

5. Ebooks
Launched in 2000 (do you see a trend here?), Ebooks is another Little Engine That Could. They claim to have a library of - depending on what part of their website you read, either 30,000 titles, 100,000 titles, or 160,000 titles. Hmm. I'm inclined to believe the former, and the latter figure includes "documents", which may be research papers in electronic format. They do offer multiple formats: .mob/prc, .lit, and .pdf.

6. Ereader.com
You have to give Ereader some credit, they just keep managing to survive. This is probably the OLDEST online electronic book retailer, once upon a time (mid 1990's) existing as Peanut Press and selling ebooks exclusively for the Palm OS devices. Since then they've been sold to Palm (became Palm Digital Media), then to Motoricity (where they became Ereader.com)...and in 2008 they were bought by Fictionwise. Which is now owned by Barnes & Noble. Which gives B&N a double-foothold into the ebook online retail market. Look out, Amazon! Right now, you need the Ereader software to read their books; they were primarily designed for PDA devices. I'm expecting this model to change dramatically as B&N.com changes their online model to once again include ebooks.

7. Gutenberg Project
Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today. PG is about digital books in all their forms - the list I've seen includes ASCII, .html, .pdf, .prc, .pdb, .rtf, .txt...as well as .mp3, .midi...you get the idea. PG is about non-DRM formats, and free books to all. Books on PG are also public domain - you won't find any Ann Rice novels here, but you will find various works by Plato, Shakespeare, Bram Stoker, Byron...at last count they had 27,000 free titles available.

I decided to include one more - not that I've had any experience with them at all, but I stumbled across them looking for something else and felt they warranted mention, if not further exploration:

8. eBookMall
From their own website:
eBookMall is a leading e-publisher and Internet retailer of eBooks. The eBookMall e-commerce website at www.ebookmall.com was launched on July 4, 2000. The site has grown from 2,000 eBooks to over 210,000 eBooks and continues to grow rapidly.

eBookMall now offers over 150,000 eBooks in a variety of popular formats. Our ordering system is simple and secure. We've provided an ample amount of instructions on how to order, because we understand that eBooks are a new technology and not much of the population has had experience with ordering them yet. We think the amount of eBook readers will increase as everyone realizes how simple eBooks are to use, and how many benefits they have.
From my own quick research, they support ebooks in the following formats: .prc, .pdb, .mob, .lit, .pdf, .doc, .txt, and .html.

So, there you have it; an exhaustive list of places you can go to get your book-read on, once you've bought your digital reading device. But what happens if the books you want, aren't available in a format your device supports?

See you next time :)

Ebooks (Vol. 2): Okay I Want, but Which One?

Thanks largely in part to 1) Oprah mentioning it on her show, and 2) no one being able to buy anything from Amazon's website without seeing a Kindle ad, the Amazon Kindle has burst out to a commanding lead in the dedicated ebook device sales market. However, just because they're becoming the iPod of ereaders, doesn't mean they're the only kid on the block you should look at. I've compiled a list of the big players out there, and you can decide for yourself which one you like more. Next volume, we'll discuss where you can GET books for your device - because not every device, can display every book format.

Kindle 2
Manufacturer: Amazon
Price: $359
Available: Amazon.com only
Display: 6" diagonal E-Ink® electronic paper display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale.

Size (in inches): 8" x 5.3" x 0.36".
Weight: 10.2 ounces.

System requirements: None, because it doesn't require a computer.

Storage: 2GB internal (approximately 1.4GB available for user content).

Battery Life: Read on a single charge for up to 4 days with wireless on. Turn wireless off and read for up to two weeks. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store and downloading content. In low coverage areas or in 1xRTT only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly.
Charge Time: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours and supports charging from your computer via the included USB 2.0 cable.

Connectivity: EVDO modem with fallback to 1xRTT; utilizes Amazon Whispernet to provide U.S wireless coverage via Sprint's 3G high-speed data network. Check our wireless coverage map for availability. This expanded coverage is only available for Kindle 2. See Wireless Terms and Conditions.

USB Port: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector) for connection to the Kindle power adapter or optionally to connect to a PC or Macintosh computer.

Audio: 3.5mm stereo audio jack, rear-mounted stereo speakers.
Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible (formats 4, Audible Enhanced (AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.

Included Accessories: Power adapter, USB 2.0 cable, rechargeable battery. Book cover sold separately.

(CNET) The good:
Slimmer and sleeker looking than the original Kindle; large library of tens of thousands of e-books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs via Amazon's familiar online store; built-in free wireless "Whispernet" data network--no PC needed; built-in keyboard for notes and navigation; a faster processor speeds up the device; with 2GB of internal memory, it's capable of storing 1,500 electronic books; font size is adjustable; improved battery life; displays image files and plays MP3 and AAC audio; compatible with Windows and Mac machines; new Text-to-Speech feature allows you to have text read aloud.

The bad:
No expansion slot for adding more memory or accessing files; files such as PDFs and Word documents aren't natively supported, and need to be converted at 10 cents a pop by Amazon; no protective carrying case included; battery is sealed into the device and isn't removable; hardware and content is still too expensive.

The bottom line:
While it's still short of perfection--and has a price tag that's too high--the Amazon Kindle 2 offers a range of improvements that makes it the best overall e-book reader we've seen to date.
Reader Digital Book 700
Manufacturer: Sony
Price: $399 ($259 non-touchscreen 505 model available)
Weights and Measurements
Dimensions (Approx.) : Approx. 5 1/9 x 6 7/9 x 13/32 inches (127.6 x 174.3 x 9.7 mm)
Weight (Approx.) : 10 oz. without soft cover

AC Power : Optional AC Charger requires 120 Volts 60Hz
Battery Life (Approx) : Up to 7,500 continuous page turns (or up to two weeks worth of reading)

Battery Type : Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
Recharging Time : Approx. 4 Hours with USB charging from powered Computer or Approx. 2 Hours when using optional AC wall charger

Media Formats Supported
DRM Text : BBeB Book (Marlin), ePub
Image : JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP
Unsecured Audio : MP3 and AAC7
Unsecured Text : BBeB, ePub, TXT, RTF, Adobe® PDF10, Microsoft® Word (Conversion to the Reader requires Word installed on your PC)

Gray Scale : 8-Level Gray Scale
Resolution : Approx. 170 Pixels Per Inch
Screen Size : 6" Measured Diagonally
Technology : E Ink® "Electronic Paper"
(MobileTechReview) Sony has worked a near miracle with their touch screen and touch-centric user interface. The Reader is simply a joy to use in terms of ergonomics, control and navigation. This is by far the most natural way to manage, navigate and read books we've seen so far. Alas, its lesser contrast doesn't warm our bookish hearts, and for those in love with e-ink's paper-like look, that's a tough one to swallow. For those new to eBook readers or those who don't mind reading from matte notebook displays, the PRS-700 has greater appeal. As always, the Reader is a great way to carry around a huge library of books and avoid the storage issues of traditional books. We aplaud Sony's support for a variety of formats, both DRM and non-DRM, especially native PDF and ePUB support. Though it lacks the cool wireless shopping feature we won't complain since all book purchases are downloaded to our PC and we can read those books on the PC too.

Pro: Responsive touch screen and excellent user interface. Navigating through books, notes and where you left off in a book is quick and easy. Nice design, more attractive than the original Kindle and more book-like than the Kindle 2. The touch screen means there's no need for a hardware keyboard (assuming you like to take notes and want a keyboard). A nice cover is included. Several book formats are supported natively, including ePUB, which will likely become the standard for digital books. The sidelights are a godsend to those who read in bed and don't want to disturb his/her partner. Sturdy metal casing (though that display is glass, so do take care).

Con: Screen has less contrast and clarity than earlier Sony Readers and the Amazon Kindle. Sony desktop software doesn't support the Mac.

Plastic Logic Reader (no official name given)
Manufacturer: Plastic Logic
Price: unknown
Available: late 2009
Specifications/Review:From the company website:
The Plastic Logic reader supports a full range of business document formats, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and Adobe PDFs, as well as newspapers, periodicals and books. It has an easy gesture-based user interface and powerful software tools that will help business users to organize and manage their information. Users can connect to their information either wired or wirelessly and store thousands of documents on the device. The reader incorporates E Ink technology for great readability and features low power consumption and long battery life.

(from reviews on the demo device)
The Plastic Logic reader's screen is larger, the size of a standard sheet of paper--8.5 by 11 inches--but it doesn't weigh much more than the other readers. It weighs 13 ounces--compared with 10.3 ounces for the smaller Kindle. And it has a display on a plastic substrate, unlike the glass screen used for the Kindle and Sony Reader, which means that it is rugged. (At Demo, Plastic Logic's CEO, Richard Archuleta, showed a video of the display being whacked with a shoe and continuing to operate.)

Instead of dealing with buttons, users can flip through the pages of a book, magazine, or PDF using a touch screen and a simple swiping gesture. The Plastic Logic reader includes a "sticky note" function and a soft keyboard for marking pages. The company hasn't made a final decision on what the reader's storage capacity will be.
Cybook Gen 3Manufacturer: Bookeen
Price: $350
Available: yes
4.7" x 7.4" x 0.3"
118 x 188 x 8.5 mm

6.13 ounces -174 g
battery included

6" E Ink® Vizplex screen
[4.8"x3.6"- 122mmx91mm]
600x800 pixels, 166 dpi
B&W, 4 grayscale
Daylight readable
No backlight
Portrait and landscape mode

buttons "ON/OFF", "Up ", "Down", "Right ", "Left", "Enter ", "Delete", "Menu", "Music".
Power Supply:
Universal AC 100~240V, DC 5V 700mA
Plugs: Euro 2Pin, UK 3Pin, US 2Pin
Operating System:
Embedded Linux
Software suite:
Bookeen® Multi-format eBook reader
Supported image formats: JPG, GIF, PNG
Supported sound format: MP3
Rechargeable built-in Li-Polymer battery (1000 mAh)
8,000 screen refresh battery life
Samsung® S3C2410 ARM920T 200MHz
ROM memory:
8 MB
RAM memory:
16 MB
Storage memory:
512 MB
USB Client (v2.0) - Mini USB B connector
In the box:
Cybook eBook reading device
USB cable
Quick Start Guide
Charger (Deluxe version)
Case (Deluxe version)
2GB SD card (Deluxe version)
Extra battery (Deluxe version)
Stereo earphones (Deluxe version

Review:(TheFutureOfThings) On the plus side, we can definitely say that, for the most part, the Cybook is fairly quick and responsive. It has a readable display, good battery life, good RSS support, and as a dedicated e-book reader it usually does its job very well.

On the downside, it is hard to use the device without considering how much better it could have been given slightly improved hardware and more robust firmware.

Fast—faster than the Sony PRS-505
Thin, light, and small
Very good battery life, (8,000 page-flips, according to Bookeen, and many hours of MP3 playback, revealed by our test)
Latest e-paper screen—very comfortable to read in a well-lit environment
Mobipocket format and software is excellent
Good—and free—RSS support

Cumbersome page-flip mechanism
Only a few, small hardware buttons
Current firmware (late February 2008) lacks folder and subfolder capabilities, making anything with more than 100 items difficult to find
Incomplete PDF support—some files don’t open or crash the device
No SDHC support
No wireless connectivity
iLiad Book Edition
Manufacturer: iRex Technologies
Price: $699
Available: yes
8.1-inch (diagonal) Electronic Paper Display
768 x 1024 pixels resolution, 160 DPI.
16 levels of grey-scale
Touch sensor input
Integrated Wacom® Penabled® sensor board
Stylus (Wacom® Slim Pen)

Processor and memory
Intel® 400MHz XScale™ processor

Storage and expansion
256MB internal flash memory of which 128MB accessible to user.
Expandable via USB, MMC or CF cards.

Power and battery
Built-in rechargeable Lithium Ion battery
Charging via Power Adapter
Charging time: about 3 hours

Built-in stereo speakers
3.5-mm stereo headphone mini-jack

Built-in Wi-Fi® 802.11B/G wireless networking
Optional external 10/100MB Ethernet networking via Travel hub.
Size and Weight
Height: 217mm (8.5 inch)
Width: 155mm (6.1 inch)
Depth: 16mm (0.63 inch)
Weight: 435 grams (15.3 ounce)

Supported Formats
File formats supported : PDF / HTML / TXT / JPG / BMP/ PNG / PRC (Mobipocket)
Additional formats supported in the future.

Interface Languages
Dutch, English, German, French and Spanish.
Additional languages supported in the future.
(TopTenReviews) It seems to be marketed more toward the communal student environment. Where you can read a book on it, but you can also get anything else that can be printed off from a computer (meaning it supports PDF files). The iLiad also has more of an international base, giving users the option to get many of the international newspapers straight to their device.

One feature we liked about the iLiad was its device-to-device compatibility. When you make notes and annotate documents on the iLiad it can be transferred not only to another computer but also to another iLiad device. If you had a paper you wanted edited, you could make notes on yours, transfer it to someone else’s so they could make notes and comments and give it back to you.

Because the iLiad screen is equipped with Wacom Penabled technology, you can use the stylus to make notes, underline, draw and more. This means that you can do things like Sodoku puzzles and crossword puzzles.

The iLiad falls short compared to other eBook readers with its battery life and internal memory. The battery only lasts around 15 hours. Disappointing, especially when compared to other devices that can go for weeks. Also, the iLiad only has 4GB of internal memory, that’s holding dozens of books as opposed to the hundreds and thousands other devices can hold.

The iLiad does not have a dedicated service for providing content. You can get online and create a MyiRex account, but that allows you to make use of the daily delivery service for two newspapers. But you can get RSS feeds on the iLiad.

The iLiad has some really cool “wow” features that we think will probably be the future of eBook readers. However, even though some of the features give user some more flexibility, the lack of storage space, a dedicated content provider and compatibility with some formats gives it a low score in value.

Hanlin eReader V3
Manufacturer: Tianjin Jinke Electronics Co., LTD
Price: $299
Available? Yes
Dimensions 184mm(L)*120.5mm(W)*9.9mm(H)
Main Display ePaper (E-ink technology)
Storage Internal/SD Card
Memory SDRAM : 32MB, Internal 2M NOR FLASH
Weight 210g
Battery Li-ION 950mAh
I/O A.3.5mm stereo audio jack for earphone, B.USB 1.1 Port, C.SD slot(extendable up to 4GB)
Working Temperature 0ºC to 40ºC
Keeping Temperature -20ºC to 55ºC
CPU Samsung Arm9 200Mhz
Operating System Linux OS
Accessories USB cable, Charger, User Manual, Earphone
(Associated Content) The Hanlin Ereader V3 supports a very wide variety of digital book formats, supporting DOC, WOLF, PDF, HTML, TXT and many other file types without the need to convert. However, it has no wireless access so electronic books must be first downloaded to a PC and then transferred to the ebook reader by means of an SD memory card or a USB port. It fulfills its main function as a portable ebook reader quite well, although it lacks many of the additional features available in other wireless reading devices. Overall, this is not a poor quality piece of technology at all, although it lacks any real unique features to make it stand out from the fold
Manufacturer: Fujitsu
Price: approx. $1,000
Available? Expected April 2009, Japan only
Resolution: 768x1024 (XGA)
Colors: 8 or 4,096 (depending on the mode; 8 colors refresh in 2s; 4,096 colors refresh in 10s)
Size: 210x304x12mm (A4), 158x240x12mm (A5)
Thickness 12mm
Weight: 480g (A4), 320g (A5)
Body colors: White pearl, pink pearl, silver
Features: Touch panel, scroll button, six function buttons
OS: MS Windows CE5.0
Security: AES-128
CPU: Intel XScale
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11b/g
SD Card
USB 2.0
Stereo speaker built-in, head phone connector
Lithium polymer battery with 50 hours runtime
[Revised](FastCompany) The FLEPia is a full sunlight-visible e-ink device, capable of displaying greyscale and color imagery (with 260,000 colors) on its 8-inch touchscreen, which has 1024 x 768-pixel resolution. There's an SD memory card slot, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR and it can run for 40 hours from a single charge. It runs Windows CE 5.0, so it can be used for reading e-books, browsing the web, emailing, reading Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, PDFs, TXT files, and JPEG imagery--that means it can also be set into digital picture frame mode.

The device has two major problems. First, the screen refresh rate is an astonishing 1.8 seconds. Although the Kindle's screen update isn't pretty (with that oddly eye-grabbing color-invert) it's at least speedy. Waiting nearly two seconds for the FLEPia to change its display is almost certainly going to get tiresome. Think about reading a physical book--flipping a page takes a fraction of a second to grab it, flip it, hold the book in place and track your eyes to the top of the new page. That's a far cry from the FLEPia's performance. And when in web or email-viewing modes it'll be really annoying. The 1.8 second time is also just for 64 colors, since it rises to 8 seconds for the full 260,000 color range.
Manufacturer: Foxit
Price: $259 introductory (deadline passed), $299 retail.
Available? Preorders sold out; due for April shipping
Screen:6" E Ink® Vizplex screen 600 x 800 pixel resolution, 4-level gray scale
Size: 7.4" x 4.7" x 0.4" (188×118×9.2mm)
Weight: 6.4 ounces (180g) battery included
Color: Black , Gray(Black back), White (Light Gray back)
Connectivity: USB2.0
Operating System: Embedded Linux
Supported Formats:
eBook Formats: PDF, TXT, Any printable document(after converted to PDF using included software)
Sound Formats: MP3
Internal Memory: 128MB
Storage Memory: SD Card (2GB included. Supports up to 4GB)

Expandability: SD card slot
Certification & Regulation: FCC
Controls:Buttons "ON/OFF", "Up ", "Down", "Right ", "Left", "Enter ", "Delete", "Menu", "Music".
Plugs: Euro 2Pin, UK 3Pin, US 2Pin
Battery:Rechargeable Lithium-Battery
Processor:Samsung® S3C2440 ARM 400MHz
(CNET UK) The device appears to be pretty no-frills--there's no built-in wireless--and seems to be all about viewing PDF files (Foxit makes a PDF converter and viewer, so that's the tie-in). The eSlick uses the same E-ink technology that the Kindle and Sony Readers do and it comes with a 2GB SD card that slips into an expansion slot.

All in all, the concept is a good one. A lot of people don't want to fiddle around with a lot of e-book formats and just want a device that's an excellent PDF reader. We'll see if the eSlick is as slick a PDF reader as it says it is when it's released

EBooks (Vol. 1): Want or Waste of Time?

Riding the trains, sitting in coffee shops with my eReader...I get a lot of lookie-loos, and questions. People are curious about this thing I'm holding - is it a Kindle? Is it an audio book? A netbook? What the hell is this, and do I (meaning they) want one for myself?

So, having had a good month with the Sony - and having had the chance to spend a few days with the Kindle 1, and a hands-on with the Kindle 2 - I figure it'd probably be a good service to clarify just what it is about an eReader that may or may not appeal to you folks out there, based on the types of questions I get.

Seriously, why do I want/need a dedicated device just for books? I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iJesus phone...why would I spend $300-$400 on a device just to read books, when all of those other devices will let me read books on them as well? And do more for the price?

You're right, you can absolutely read books on any of those devices you've named, and more. Hell, I used to download ebooks onto my Palm device and read them on planes/trains. So why did I fork over the bucks for a dedicated reading device?

Because I like my eyes.

I spent a couple grand a few years ago to have Lasik surgery, after having spent most of my life wearing glasses. I would very much like to put off, for as long as possible, any eye damage that will naturally occur as old age begins to creep up on me.

Computer screens - LCD screens - while better than the old CRT screens, will (excuse my french) fuck your eyeballs up. Especially as much as we web junkies use them.

Come on; video games, web browsing, chat programs, spreadsheets, documents, text messages, smartphones. We probably spend 10-12 hours a day squinting at LCD screens of some kind. And I'm being conservative with that number. Here's part of a report put out on eye fatigue:
As the amount of technology used in today’s world increases, so do the concerns for health and safety. Numerous persons who utilize computers on a regular basis complain of difficulties with their vision. Scientific research conducted by experts in the field indicate that, though it is common for discomfort and fatigue for the eyes, there is no permanent damage from using computers on a regular basis. There was one study, completed in Japan in 2004, which did however, find an increased risk for myopic (nearsighted) individuals who use computers on a regular basis and an incidence of Glaucoma.

There are many different possible-contributing factors to eye problems related to computer use. They include:

- Using bifocals which are set for a typical reading distance of sixteen inches, and where computer monitors are usually further away than sixteen inches.
- The set distance of the computer monitor causing the worker to focus on one specific distance for a long period of time.
- The fact that information on a computer monitor is brightest in the middle then fades out, as it gets closer to the edge. This causes the eyes to overwork to compensate and can result in strain to the eyes.
- Prolonged use of the computer without adequate breaks, causing increased stress and strain to the eyes.
- Inadequate or improper placement and/or use of lighting. (glares too much or is too dark).

Isn't this just another LCD device, and won't it still damage your eyes?


See, the reason for the price on these readers isn't the newness of the devices - ebooks have been around the consumer market since the '90s, and ereaders have been available for a good 4-5 years now. No, the price is related to the technology being used: e-ink.

Readers such as the Kindle (which right now is the most popular, but I'll go into detail later about the different devices out there) DO NOT use LCD screens, and therefore cause considerably less eye strain on their own. There's no backlight, the screen technology is designed to be no more of a strain on the eyes than reading a paper book.

E-ink...in simplistic terms, is like looking at a very, very good Etch-A-Sketch. It rearranges a display of charged particles using an electrical field, essentially "pushing" the charged particles to the top of the special "paper" holding them and forming images based on what the electrical impulses tell them to do.

Think of it in terms of those old gimmick desk toys you'd seen, where you stuck your hand into an open block of thin, metal rods; the rods would push outward with your hand, and form a three-dimensional image of your hand with those rods.

A very similar principal is at work here. The device electronically reads what the text is supposed to look like, and pushes the particles up to the top of the display sheet in the proper configuration where you can see it - in the form of text, or pictures. When you turn the page it wipes the board clean, and does it all again.

The advantages of this?

- no screen flicker on display;
- no glare from a lighted display;
- less reflection from ambient outside light;
- significant battery savings

How much does this save in battery life?

Like you can't imagine. An LCD screen draws on it's power supply to keep it active. An e-ink display...doesn't. Once the screen is drawn, it takes NO power to keep the image on the screen.

I've had my Sony for just about a month. I've charged it...twice. In that time I've read 11 full-length books and several newspaper RSS feeds. I use it DAILY, on my commute to and from work, and will sit and read on the weekends.

And I've charged it twice in that time. At neither time was it at the halfway mark for battery life.

If I didn't touch my phone AT ALL for the same amount of time, I'd come back and find it completely dead.

Okay, but at the end of the day - this is still just a $300 book.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, people looked at the iPod and thought: puh-leeze, this is just a $400 device to hold music. It had a mere monochrome 160 x 128 LCD, 32MB of RAM and 5G of storage. The iPod didn't know how to work with Windows, was FireWire-only at first, and only sold 125,000 units in its first two months. They didn't see its potential.

Ebook readers are in that stage of development. And they can already do so much more than people give them credit for. Don't think of this as a device to read a book with; think of it as a device to STORE your books. Your entire LIBRARY of books. Right now, with a mere 512mb storage card in it, my Sony reader has 80 books and 3 newspapers in storage. Understand that: 80 full-length books. That I can access at any time, anywhere I am. The devices have built-in mp3 capacity, so I could use it to listen to music while I read. It can store photos. Some have limited web browsing capability. Others have note-taking ability, touch-screen technology, dictionary lookups... Imagine if you had this, in college, instead of your backpack filled with 10lb books. You could carry an entire semester's textbook needs, in your coat pocket.

Granted, but: a black and white display? Seriously?

I say again: early stages of development. Color readers are out there, but because of the way the technology works it's cost-prohibitive for the consumer market. Right now. Give it a few years, you'll see that change - and it'll open up a whole new market for readers: magazines, graphic novels, comic books.

I'm still not completely convinced...

At the end of the day, it comes down to this: do you read a lot of books, whether for pleasure, work, or school? Do you read more than 2 books a month? Are you comfortable using technology?

If you can answer yes to these...then yes, an ereader is very likely something you'd like. And we'll chat more later on the specifics of what's out there, what their differences are, and where you can get books to download onto them.

If you've answered no, then let's face it - you're not really into books, are you? So this would be a total waste of your money. It's what a graphic tablet is to an artist; if you don't spend a lot of time doing computer art, what's the point of owning one?

More later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

iCult of iPersonality

Apple is evil.

I've said it again. And again. And again. But still you people refuse to believe me; you rush out, blindly buying these sterile devices devoid of personality - but you're tricked into believing that owning one will somehow enhance yours, and since everyone else has one...why be the one not owning the popular new gadget?

Well, Apple fans, your holy church is showing their true colors.

The new Shuffle has...no controls on it. It's a plain white stick, with a headphone plug. The controls are on the headphones, not the device.

Sounds cool, doesn't it? And look how tiny it is! Ubertech!

Here's the catch. There's an authentication chip inside the new Shuffle. So only those headphones programmed to work with the chip, will work on your Shuffle.

Yes, that's right true believers. Those $90 earbuds you've come to love so much? Useless, if you buy the Shuffle. You may as well stuff cotton swabs in your ears, you'll get more sound out of them.

Think about how this works: Apple, as most people are aware, makes pretty crappy headphones that come with their devices. No one actually uses the headphones that come with it, they go out and buy their own. Life is good.

Company A, we'll call them...SoNi...makes headphones. Their headphones are actually pretty good. You like your SoNi headphones. You also (since you, too, are drinking the red Kool-aid) like the new iPod Shuffle, and would love to use the very expensive SoNi headphones you already own.

You can't.

SoNi, in order to make new headphones for the Shuffle...must pay a licensing fee to Apple. Which will raise the price of their headphones.

Which will make you think twice about buying a new pair. Instead, you'll stick with the ones Apple sent you.

SoNi a) is paying money to Apple to make headphones that b) no one will buy, leading to SoNi losing money. Because of this, they can't put more money into their competing MP3 players. Which means even more people buy Apple.

This is what we call evil, folks. With a capital E.

And you, you'll all just keep on buying those fruit-logo'd products, won't you?

Is it any coincidence that the Shuffle is how Zombies move?

Resistance is futile.

Fembots Are Closer Than You Think

First: I know some of you out there aren't getting the "fembot" reference. Damn kiddies. Waaaaay back in the days of analog television, there was a show called the Bionic Woman; in one two-part episode, she fought a series of female robots (androids) called the Fembots.

I've been making sexbot jokes for a while now, but...are they really jokes? Last week, we had the robot who was taught to love (and, not coincidently, went crazy).
Well, that was then. This is now.
TSUKUBA (Japan) - JAPANESE researchers on Monday showed off a robot that will soon strut her stuff down a Tokyo catwalk.
The girlie-faced humanoid with slightly oversized eyes, a tiny nose and a shoulder length hair-do boasts 42 motion motors programmed to mimic the movements of flesh-and-blood fashion models.

'Hello everybody, I am cybernetic human HRP-4C,' said the futuristic fashionista, opening her media premiere at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology outside Tokyo.

The fashion-bot is 158 centimetres tall, the average height of Japanese women aged 19 to 29, but weighs in at a waif-like 43 kilograms - including batteries. She has a manga-inspired human face but a silver metallic body.

'If we had made the robot too similar to a real human, it would have been uncanny,' said one of the inventors, humanoid research leader Shuji Kajita.

'We have deliberately leaned toward an anime style.' The institute said the robot 'has been developed mainly for use in the entertainment industry' but is not for sale at the moment.

Let's...stop it right there, shall we? "We have deliberately leaned towards an anime style"..."has been developed for...the entertainment industry".

Helllloooo?! Am I the only one seeing where this is leaning?

The Japanese have been working on female bots for a while now. A Michigan lab is working on a robot hand that can do breast exams, and a Japanese cosmetics company has been developing a "soft, human-like skin"...for unknown purposes. Because we need our industrial robots to be nice and soft to the touch, I guess.

Combine all of this and what do we get? A robot taught to love...sensitive enough to fondle genitalia...has oh-so-soft skin...can speak...and looks like an anime doll.

Sexbot. Sexbot. Sexbot. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. ASHAMED!

...now, where do I send the money to?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Literary Logjam

I'm stumped.

A few weeks back I up and bought myself a Sony Reader; I won't get into the details of why the Reader over the Kindle, except to say I like my expensive tech to look like it came from THIS decade, not 20 years earlier.

I'm a book junkie, and love to read; my biggest concerns were where to store the books I was done with, and when I finished a book on the way to work should I buy another one to pick up for the ride home?

I remember being in a bookstore once with a friend, and she pointed at these two bookends and said "that's you." I looked, and they depicted a small dragon crouched on a desk, with its nose buried in the book. I asked why, in particular, she said that reminded her of me. She replied: "It looks like he's inhaling the books, not reading them. That's how you read, you breathe them in and you're done."

I read a little fast. Sue me.

Anyway, none of this per se is my dilemna. Where I'm stuck is in deciding what books to download onto my Reader. See, Sony decided to run a promo where, if you bought a Reader by a certain date you'd receive, from their ebook store, 100 free classic titles. I emphasize, free.

A virtual smorgasborg, right? A literary cornucopia, every reader's dream.

Be careful what you wish for.

Oh at first it seemed so EASY! Without hesitation, I checked off: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Iliad, the Odyssey; the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Count of Monte Cristo, The Divine Comedy, Dr Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. 26 great classics in all, so far.

...but now, I'm stuck.

There are over 900 classics to choose from, and now I'm not sure which ones I'd want to own. I don't want to just grab books I'll never re-read, or reference. I can dig up Shakespeare for free online at any time, so do I NEED to own copies of his works? Will I ever want to read Moby Dick again? I should own Mark Twain, but will that be at the expense of Leo Tolstoy? Herman Melville? Jonathan Swift? Charles Dickens? George Bernard Shaw?


And in this, my friends, lies the fatal flaw of the ebook. I can own as many bourgeois books as I want...and no one would ever SEE them. So if they're not being owned for my reading pleasure, do I need to own them at all?

Certain books are meant to be put on a library shelf, only brought down and dusted off in the presence of company. It loses the flavor if you're simply handing over a thin device and saying "See index 3.14, header G". You can't pass on an ebook to a friend, a confidant, a child who needs a copy for a book report.

Classics are...well, classic. They deserve to be treated with love and respect, shelved and ignored for decades until, long after your death, some younger relative going through your most sacred possessions will pull down that ancient tome you've hoarded, carefully wipe the accumulated dust from the title, and whisper to herself:

"...wow, I can probably get twenty bucks for this on ebay!"

The Future is Now

As much of a technology whore that I am, very few things make me sit up and beg for more. Sure, I get all giddy about the Palm Pre - but that's because a) I'm a Palm junkie, and b) I'm anti-Apple, so I'd very much like this to be the true challenger to the iPhone. I own a Sony Reader, but it's a convenience thing. They interest me, perhaps even excite me - but I don't look at it and go "holy shit, that's awesome!"

I may have found the tech that does that to me.

As a point of reference, I'm sure you've all seen the movie Minority Report with Tom "Krazy-Ass" Cruise. I'm specifically referring to the scenes where he's using his hands to manipulate icons on a virtual computer screen. There was a similar tech in the syndicated tv show "Earth: Final Conflict" (geeks, represent!) It's a technology we all dream about seeing "one day", but honestly don't believe we're there yet.

Well...if we're not there, we're frighteningly close.

The following video is a demo of tech created at MIT and still being developed. They're calling it a Sixth Sense technology - tech that uses a projector and a camera to pick up information about items around you, process that information, and then project data back for you to view/manipulate.

It's virtual, in reality.

I admit, talking about is very ho-hum-yawn. But you absolutely MUST see it in action to fully appreciate it. There's a scene in the demo video where the guy wants to know what time it is, so he uses his finger to draw a circle on his wrist - and the device projects a clockface onto his wrist, with the current time! He picks up a book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and the device reads the cover, goes out to Amazon, grabs the user ratings for the book and starts displaying it - right onto the book itself, for you to see.

It's an incredible concept, if this ever comes to market and is scaled down to a device that's a little less awkward-looking. If it could be packaged in something the size of a bluetooth headset for your ear...

Really, the future would BE now.

Watch the video. Skip ahead to about minute 3:10, when the cool demo's start if you don't want to hear the explanations on how it works.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Computer Love

A few days ago, I made a computer love joke to someone who, using their fresh-out-of-the-box Amazon Kindle 2, decided to test the text to speech feature by having it read from a romance novel. The results were...sterile, to say the least. She compared the voice to - she being slightly younger than me - a video game, Portal, and the psychopathic female computer in the game. I - being wiser and more worldly - referenced an 80s R&B pair, Zapp & Roger, and their hit song "Computer Love".

Which of course is what immediately came to mind when I found out a robot in Japan decided to go all stalker-ish on a researcher - trapping her in the office for hours, refusing to let her leave. I shit you not, true believers; read on.

Kyoto, JP -3 March 2009- Staff. Researchers at Toshiba’s Akimu Robotic Research Institute were thrilled ten months ago when they successfully programmed Kenji, a third generation humanoid robot, to convincingly emulate certain human emotions. At the time, they even claimed that Kenji was capable of the robot equivalent of love.

(Okay, let's stop here for a second. I need to digest this part. They programmed a computer...to love. Humans have been trying to figure out how to define love for...well, since existance began. Yet, magically, these repressed nerds, um, scientists, have broken it down to a algorithm?! WTF? Frankenstein, much?)

Now, however, they fear that his programming has taken an extreme turn for the worst.
(well durr...!)

“Initially, we were thrilled to see a bit of our soul come alive in this so called ‘machine,’” said Dr. Akito Takahashi, the principal investigator on the project. “This was really the final step for us in one of the fundamentals of the singularity.”

Kenji was part of an experiment involving several robots loaded with custom software designed to let them react emotionally to external stimuli. After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight. Researchers attributed this behavior to his programmed qualities of devotion and empathy and called the experiment a success.

What they didn’t count on were the effects of several months of self-iteration within the complex machine-learning code which gave Kenji his initial tenderness. As of last week, Kenji’s love for the doll, and indeed anybody he sets his ‘eyes’ on, is so intense that Dr. Takahashi and his team now fear to show him to outsiders.

The trouble all started when a young female intern isn't it ALWAYS the young, female interns? Vindication, Bill Clinton!) began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji.

“Despite our initial enthusiasm, it has become clear that Kenji’s impulses and behavior are not entirely rational or genuine,” conceded Dr. Takahashi.

Ever since that incident, each time Kenji is re-activated, he instantaneously bonds with the first technician to meet his gaze and rushes to embrace them with his two 100kg hydraulic arms. (so...he's an overweight socially inept techno-organic/geek, who thinks every woman he sees he's in love with and is too mentally unstable to interact with them properly? Does the robot play Worlds of Warcraft and live in his mother's basement too?)

Dr. Takahashi admits that they will more than likely have to decommission Kenji permanently, but he’s optimistic about one day succeeding where Kenji failed.

“This is only a minor setback. I have full faith that we will one day live side by side with, and eventually love and be loved by, robots,” he said.

Does this all sound...oddly familiar? 2004. Will Smith. I, Robot:
Detective Del Spooner: I think you murdered him because he was teaching you to simulate emotions and things got out of control.
Sonny: I did not murder him.
Detective Del Spooner: But emotions don't seem like a very useful simulation for a robot.
Sonny: [getting angry] I did not murder him.
Detective Del Spooner: Hell, I don't want my toaster or my vacuum cleaner appearing emotional...
Sonny: [Hitting table with his fists] I did not murder him!

I have a few questions, for the lab in Kyoto:

1) Why, exactly, are you trying to program a robot to love? In this Rosie the Robot lookalike, is the goal to create robotic au pairs? Is Technonanny going to become the babysitter of the future? Let's be real: that's what you tell the investors. But really your next research project is how to make a robot's skin feel like real flesh. I saw that episode of Buffy too you perv, and that sexbot didn't fare too well in the end either.

2) How, exactly, is this robot stopping the woman from leaving the lab? I'm assuming there's a decent sized space here. Every robot I've seen, including Asimo the walking wonder, pretty much moves slower than my Nana with a walker. So why the FUCK did you MORONS apparently build this thing with a turbocharger? Because that's the only explanantion I can come up with, for it being able to stop her from leaving. Is it on tank treads? Maybe a refurbished Segway? What kind of top speed does this thing have?

3) I realize interns are underpaid and, in some cases, not the brightest bulb on the christmas tree. But I have to assume that said robot...had an off switch. Somewhere. A plug. A battery. I mean, seriously - she had to call in two male interns to come save her?! Call me paranoid, but why do I have visions of these two dorks sitting at home on their Macbook, watching everything on video - remotely controlling the robot and giggling like mad at the prospect of rescuing our fair lolita princess?

Seriously folks, this is a bad Hollywood...wait, that's an oxymoron. This is a typical Hollywood horror flick, in real life. Young female intern. Nerd scientist. He makes his move, gets rejected. Is angry. Programs robot to attack intern. Spend next 45 minutes having robot take over lab, young intern running around in the dark slowing losing articles of clothing due to "accidents". Finds the ONE cellphone working, only number she knows/who has access is nerdboy. He shows up, she thinks she's safe, falls asleep...only to wake up in his basement, handcuffed and surrounded by robotic parts - all reaching for her, proclaiming their love.

Cue scream, roll credits.

Hollywood, ya'll got my number. Let's do lunch.