eBook Evolution

I have written about ebooks a few times in the past. I started in 2008 with the Sony E-Reader, and then moved on to an iPad in 2011, and then to the Kindle in 2014. As a lifelong, heavy reader, books have always been a significant part of my life. The eBook and reader has been a godsend. Yet, all is not perfect in the reader world.

Being a long time e-reader user, an early adopter, and several technology nodes along the way, the challenge is that I have books from multiple vendors, in multiple formats, and that complicates life.

Sony was the first stop in the path to an e-reader. It started using proprietary Sony only formats. Yet, as the technology evolved, and Amazon become a powerful player, Sony books ended up being in protected ePub format. Moving them was trivial using Calibre, and they remain in my library.

I later bought a second generation iPad, about the time that Apple launched their bookstore. I have to admit, that the reading experience on the iPad with the Apple application was/is outstanding. However, the protection that Apple uses for their books is not removable, so you are limited to using the iPad or now the iBooks application on the Mac to read them. That would be OK if I always used my iPad to read, but alas, I prefer to use an e-ink reader (no distractions, a better immersive environment.)

All was well until the second Sony reader began to die. Its battery always sucked, and I ended up replacing it less than 18 months after buying it. However, even with the new battery, it really never lived up to the quality or performance of the original reader I had from Sony. Bummer.

I could have turned 100% to the iPad, but at its core, I still prefer the e-ink based readers. However, at this time, late 2013, the battle was over. There were some also rans, the iPad, or the Kindle.

So I took the plunge, and bought a Paperwhite kindle (wifi only, without the ads). As much as it pains me, it is now a damn good reader, and the Amazon book ecosystem is solid. Huge selection, reasonable prices, and a painless purchase/access process. It really just works.

Of course, the Amazon format files are protected (again, it is trivial to remove this protection).

The integration with Calibre is excellent, and converting my extensive collection of ePub books to .mobi format for the Kindle is trivial.

One thing is for certain, the only loser here is printed books. It has to be a special book indeed where I buy a dead tree version.

So, like much of my digital life, I have many epochs of detritus, collections spanning multiple technologies. Don’t get me started about my music collection (Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and my ripped CD’s).

What I am reading: 1984

With all the buzz lately about the NSA revelations by Edward Snowden, and the surveillance state, I thought I would pick up my copy of 1984 and re-read it.

Set in the year 1984, it is a masterful piece of fiction that is remarkably prescient in many of its predictions, given that it was published in 1949. The two way telescreen is particularly poignant, with the amount of listening that is apparently being done by BB.

I didn’t read this, or its other kin when I was in High School like most people. I picked this up in my 30’s, along with Animal Farm, and Aldus Huxley’s: Brave New World. So I didn’t have a literature teacher guiding us through the analysis, so I was free to take my own views.

First, the world is different from the time when George Orwell wrote this. At that time, it appeared that “socialism” would sweep the world, and that there would be three major centers of socialism, Ingsoc (or english socialism), eastasia, and eurasia, that would be perpetually at war with each other. Like the Russian and Chinese form of socialism, society has been structured into two halves, the proles (proletariat) making up about 85% of the population, and the “party”; the apparatus that keeps the proles in check. Within the party, there is the inner circle, who don’t have much privation or limits on what they can do, and the rest of the party, who lives in a state of fear/hate.

The protagonist, Winston Smith works in the records department of the Ministry of Truth (minitrue), “adjusting” prior published facts to ensure that the official party line from today matches what was said yesterday.

There is a whole group who works on newspeak, a language that is used to communicate to the party. New-speak phrases like “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” are the mantra of the party, and talks about the double speak.

While I don’t think that we have devolved to a society where common household goods are rationed, and there is a black market for things like coffee and razor blades, it is hard to not see the parallels with the modern state. A significant amount of history revision is common in the political class (both parties are equally guilty), and the policy makers /  “aristocrat” class seem to become ever more isolated from the plight of the common man.

I am also reading a detailed history of Europe from the middle ages to the present, and much of the societal structure outlined in 1984 is aligned with typical European societies in the past. Of course, the mechanization of production, and the shifting of power to labor, and now back to capital, is part of the shifts in society.

Along the way, Winston starts doubting the world order when he comes across incontrovertible evidence of fraud in the ruling class. From that point on, he begins with small rebellious behaviors, and escalates.

The story is a great tale of fighting the system.  If you haven’t read it since your secondary school, I would highly recommend picking it up and reading it again.