Tag Archives: google

An eBook Rant

With a holiday coming up soon I decided to get serious about ebooks. It was time to get myself a proper reading device.

I pride myself on being an early ebook adopter having had  the venerable Microsoft Reader application on my desktop computers since the days of Windows 95. But from the end of the month – August 2012 – Microsoft is retiring this almost forgotten product. It lasted 12 years, venerable for a computer application, and for a considerable time now the fact is I’ve only been using the Kindle reader on my laptop and iPhone, using the brilliant Calibre software to convert format where necessary.

However a 15” laptop screen, great for watching films, is too big and unwieldy to be a great book reading experience. For portability I’ve mostly used the iPhone, and though its 3.5” screen just about works it’s too small to be really comfortable, especially when I keep losing my reading specs.

The ideal size for a book of course is the one evolution since the days of Guttenberg has ended up with – around 7”. The only problem with a 7” paperback is the 1” thickness which makes taking half a dozen on holiday a strain on the average, less than 6” capacity pocket.  I don’t like back-packs. Hence my need to buy a slim-line 7” eBook reader.

The obvious candidate, since I use the Kindle software, was a Kindle device. I researched the option thoroughly (such is my wont) and the price has certainly become attractive. The e-ink screen for reading in outdoor light is also a major plus for holiday reading. (So why, as a self-proclaimed early adopter have I taken so long? – confession I’m not an early spender).

I liked it so much I borrowed one from a friend. It was good but I found the ‘black flash’ of the e-ink page turn distracting. I’m told you quickly get used to this but I’m a believer in technology adapting to me rather than the other way round.

No such problems with the latest iPad which my friend also had (yes, an early spender), a superb screen, good range of books from the Apple store, but boy, is it expensive! I avoided thinking about value for money by deciding the iPad 10” screen is too big for my pocket in both the sartorial and financial sense.

After scouring reviews for 7” tablets I plunge in and buy a Google Nexus 7.  It’s new on the market and gets rave reviews as the best of the bunch. It arrives and lives up to expectations – a great screen for reading anywhere except bright sunlight, much better than my laptop in fact, and a snip at the price or so I’m reassuringly informed. Though more expensive than a basic Kindle (same price point as the Kindle Fire)  it has wider capabilities (translation: a gadget with lots of geeky toy potential – like GPS to get me back to my holiday hotel).

It’s when I start to purchase holiday reading that I have to stop and think. It brings home the widespread complaint that ebooks from commercial publishers cost pretty much the same as paperback books despite the glaring discrepancy in production costs.

Here’s the thing: when I buy a paperback I’m paying the seller for the paper, printing costs, physical transport from printer to bookstore, the helpful and charming staff’s salary, training her how to use the espresso machine etc.  When I buy an ebook I’m paying personally, upfront, for the physical infrastructure (the tablet reader) and the broadband delivery (ok a minor overhead as it’s used for a lot else) plus a cent’s worth of electricity contributed by the publisher. So why pretty much the same price?

And another thing: I could have gone to a wonderful second-hand bookstore (usually a lot more fun than a chain store selling new books) and bought a great paperback at a tenth the cost of an ebook.  True Fact: literature goes back over a hundred years, not all the best books were published in the last three months. Also books, unlike writers, improve with age. But there’s no second-hand market in ebooks – not only because of the technology but because of the different legal status applied – yes I understand the piracy issues but I really don’t like the way corporate interests always seem more important than consumer interests in the lobbyist-influenced decisions of modern lawmakers.

The way things are, except in circumstances where you’re prepared to pay a big premium for convenience or geeky toy-ness, I don’t think commercial ebook prices are good value for readers. Until things change, and I believe they’ll have to sooner or later, most of my reading is still going to be indie writers, second-hand paperbacks, and the public library.

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Internet Privacy

Suspicious about how Big Brother is using ever more sophisticated tools to track your use of the Internet? Google, Amazon, the FBI, Facebook, the company that owns your work computer can all monitor what you do online. But it may be the lesser of two evils.

Each organization would claim they have good reason for their surveillance, and to some extent it’s arguable they really do, assuming they can be trusted to act responsibly. In the case of Google their knowledge of almost everything we look at on screen helps them target highly individualized adverts, which increases effectiveness for advertisers, makes lots of money for Google, and keeps all those incredibly useful services like search, email, storage, free to use for everyone.

Even so I can’t blame people for feeling uneasy, even paranoid, about the intrusion behind the screen, even when the only obvious result is advertising popping up on my computer for mail-order Creative Writing degrees, Cellphone packages and Shelving Systems, all connected in some way to stuff I’ve done online.

The European Union, an odd organization that champions consumer rights when not busy bankrupting small member nations, has recently banned web sites from dropping cookies in secret on visiting computers, legislation now insists they must, if they’re hosted in Europe, explicitly get a user’s permission beforehand. Additionally browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer have introduced ‘Do Not Track’ settings – though usually buried in the options and compliance by websites is voluntary. You can even tell Google you want to stay private if you dig deeply enough into account settings.

So I tried becoming anonymous recently. It took a few hours delving through technical advice sites, ironically relying on Google, before I had every system, browser and cookie setting switched to protect my online identity from prying eyes. I don’t have anything to hide, honest. I simply believe in a right to privacy.

Google and it’s surveillance buddies however seemed to draw their own conclusions about the type of person who’d want to become anonymous in this way. My targeted (and admittedly appropriate) adverts for shelving systems and the classic books of John Dickson Carr were promptly replaced by larger and much more colorful banners for agencies representing attractive Russian brides, and for sun-soaked Gay vacation resorts in Palm Springs (I’m broad-minded, but both at once ?). Clearly they weren’t tracking my financial status any longer.

And of course it wasn’t what I wanted anyone physically looking over my shoulder to see on my laptop (okay, I’m really narrow-minded). I went back to allowing widespread surveillance. They’re tracking me again, probably even as I write. Google, if you’re reading this, tell Anastasia from Podolsk to email me, I’ve lost her details. FBI – friend me on Facebook?

For technical details here’s how the experts explain it: How Websites Track You Online