Thursday, November 29, 2007

Random Rant: Another ebook push

So, we're back to the ebook push again with the launch of two new readers from Amazon and Sony. I've made my feelings on ebooks pretty clear in the past, but with the launch of these new readers, I dutifully made the effort to check them out.

I first looked at Amazon's Kindle, and much to my surprise, I was actually kind of impressed with it. No, I don't believe I would like it as much as a real book, but, at least from the shots of it on the site, this looks like the most readable reader I've ever seen. The screen looks very much like a real book page, and with the cover they offer, you could almost hold it the way that you hold a book. I thought this might be worth at least checking out. Then I got to the price -- $400. After I put my eyes back in my head, I cruised on back over to the regular book section of the site. No thanks.

I next took a look at the Sony E-Reader. It looks a little less clunky than the Kindle, but, at least from the images I've seen, the screen doesn't look as easy on the eyes. Again, though, there's a $300 investment up front. That will buy a whole lot of traditional books.

Putting aside that I love my dead tree books and the fact that I hate the way the electronic format makes books somehow feel disposable, these readers, while the best we've seen so far, still have a lot of challenges. The biggest I believe, as I pointed out above, is the price. To your average person who doesn't have money to blow, a $400 upfront investment doesn't make a lot of sense. Most new releases that I've seen in ebook format cost $9.99. That's more than the average paperback, and not a whole lot less than what you can usually find the hardcover for online. (Not to mention the fact that, if you don't want to keep it, you can resell the hardcover or paperback, pass it along to a friend or donate it to a book fair. Things you can't do with the electronic copy.) It's a price point that I don't believe a whole lot of people are going to be willing to pay -- possibly only techies and hardcore environmentalist types who will feel better about themselves because they're saving trees. That's not a big audience, and not enough, I believe to push ebooks mainstream.

Then there's the fact that the software for these machines is proprietary. Want to download an ebook from the library onto your Kindle or E-Reader? Too bad. The only way to get the book you want is to purchase it from either Amazon in the case of the Kindle or Connect in the case of the Sony. I bristle at proprietary formats anyway. It's the reason that I have an MP3 player that's not an iPod -- one that allows me to load music from many different sources and from many different services. I'd say very few bibliophiles buy every single book that they read brand new. If we did, we certainly wouldn't have $400 to drop on a reader. This cuts out those of us who like to save a few bucks by buying used or going to the library.

So I hear the same argument building from some quarters that the music industry has already used on us. Authors deserve to get paid for their work and reselling or sharing a book with a friend is wrong. *sigh* I'm a writer. I hope to one day be a published writer. You can bet your ass I believe authors (and musicians) deserve to get paid for their work. When I am published, though, I will be delighted if someone likes my book well enough to pass it along.

It's an argument that's never made much sense to me. Someone that's not familiar with your work is much more likely to give it a shot if a friend passes the book along than they are to drop $10 on it at the store. I don't know how many times a friend has passed along a paperback, and I've liked it enough to go out and buy all the author's work. I don't know how many of my favorite bands I was introduced to by someone handing me a dubbed cassette (those are the little plastic things with wheels and actual tape in them for my younger readers.) I've literally spent thousands of dollars on authors and musicians that I took a chance on because they were handed to me for free.

Back to the subject at hand, I'll admit that these new readers have my attention, and that's quite an accomplishment considering my love of real books and my mindset about ebooks. But they've still got a long, long way to go. For right now, I still don't think they're ready for prime time and that little paper, ink and glue loving part of me smiles at the thought.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Armchair QB: Who are you?

Attention real New Orleans Saints team: Will you please take the field for the remaining five games of the season?

Seriously, whichever one you are, please show up for all of the remaining five games. If it's the team that stomped Carolina today, the one that looked like the team that went to the NFC championship game last year, that's fantastic. If it's the team that looked absolutely horrible in losing to Houston last week or the team that gave St. Louis its first win of the season, well, there's always next year. But give us some semblance of consistency. Don't toy with us poor, deluded fans who are hanging on with blind faith to the hope that we can make a run in our pitiful division and make the playoffs. Either give us a reason to hope or put us out of our misery.

Next week should be the telling game. While I still think 9-7 will win this division, which gives us enough wiggle room for one more loss somewhere down the stretch, I don't think it's possible to win the division if that loss is to Tampa Bay.

So, here we are, a far cry from my foolish prediction that the opening game of the season would be a preview of this year's Super Bowl. Now, I'm digging my fingernails into the hope just to get a playoff game and watching them rip off as we continue to slide down the cliff. Here's hoping the team that played today shows up for the next five weeks and lets me keep as many of those fingernails as I can.

Oh, and by the way, will someone (Steelers, I'm talking to you) please beat the damned Patriots so I can stop hearing how they're invincible, unbeatable and destined to go 19-0 already? Thanks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Review: "Making Money" by Terry Pratchett

Once upon a time, a new Terry Pratchett novel was mandatory reading for me, but I just haven’t found his last few books as funny as expected. I’ve even missed a few completely over those years. So I opened “Making Money” ($25.95, HarperCollins), it was without the excitement that I once had.

The book returns to the story of the unfortunately named Moist von Lipwig, introduced in “Going Postal.” The former con man was given a new lease on life in that book when Lord Vetinari, the patrician of the city of Ankh-Morpork, spared him from execution to put him in charge of the floundering post office. In a few years, Moist has used his former criminal skills to get the post office running more smoothly than ever.

Now, Moist is bored and has returned to his criminal ways, in secret, for some excitement. The city also has another problem — its banks are failing. Vetinari once again turns to Moist to “persuade” him to take over the royal mint. Throw in the conniving family of the late chairman who want to seize control of the mint, an assassin’s guild contract and a girlfriend who is head of a golem liberation organization, and you’ve got all the makings of a zany Pratchett tale.

Once again, though, “Making Money” just doesn’t stack up to past Discworld offerings. The book will hold the interest of Pratchett fans, but don’t expect many laugh-out-loud moments, just a chuckle here and there. The satirical element of Pratchett’s work does run through the entire book as he takes stabs at several social and political issues, but it’s not quite as cutting as he’s been in the past.

The characters here also don’t seem as colorful and well-realized as some of Pratchett’s past heroes and villains. Maybe its my affection for older characters like Rincewind the Wizzard, Granny Weatherwax and, of course, Death, but most of the new characters don’t seem to connect the way those did. (This from the guy who was happy to see new blood in the books just a few years back.)

Storywise, the book is interesting and enjoyable, and it’s a step above some of his considerable output over the past decade or so, including “Going Postal.” If you’re new to Pratchett, though, I’d advise digging back into the Discworld catalog before trying out the newer volumes.

Read my reviews of past Pratchett novels. (Please note that some of the first reviews on this page are very old and rudimentary.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Armchair QB: Stupid games

Well, it certainly didn't take long for the "I told you so" crowd to come out. In fact, they were out before the game ended Sunday. I wasn't going to be home for the game and was recording it. I stopped at a restaurant around 2 p.m., a guy there saw the Saints license plate on the front of my truck and started in. Mind you, at that point it was 20-7 in the third quarter.

Let's put aside the fact that we never should have been down 34-7 to St. Louis in the first place and just look at that fourth quarter. At least they gave us some excitement, and I still believe that had Josh Bullocks come down with either of those onside kicks that passed through his hands, we win that game in an incredible comeback. I certainly think there was more drama than Chris Berman's enthralling ESPN analysis of the fourth quarter: "the Saints scored some points late."

I felt pretty good after the Jacksonville game, but I told my wife, I'll feel much better if we take care of St. Louis next week and don't have one of our stupid games. Saints fans will know what I mean by "stupid games." It's when the team gets on a roll, wins a few games, starts looking better, then in rolls a winless or one-win team and not only beats us, but thrashes us. It's a very familiar pattern, one I hoped we'd break. But, we had a stupid game.

It's the same old Saints inconsistency. True, the Rams didn't play like an 0-8 team on Sunday, but the Saints did. Unlike the unflappable Drew Brees of last season, the one that started the game on Sunday was the Aaron Brooks impersonator from earlier this year. The guy that senses pressure and puts the ball up for grabs. And why is Jason David still on the field? I know Fred Thomas isn't the answer, but I think we'd be better off with him in there. Every smart quarterback in the league has the number 42 etched in his brain coming into a game with New Orleans. Drop back, look for 42 and let fly. Your receiver is as good as open.

Luckily, we're in the weakest division in the league, so we're still in the hunt for the NFC South. I think 9-7 wins the division, possibly even 8-8. Also luckily, we don't play the Dolphins.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Armchair QB: Four in a row -- wow

Though I never gave up hope, I'll admit that four weeks ago, it was even hard for me to look at this team and think it could make something of itself. I was preaching patience to my fellow Saints fan, but everything I was saying was about next year. Even I had pretty much given up on doing anything this season.

So it took some time for me to really embrace the fact that we might be back when we started to win. I was heartened by the victory over the 49ers, and though there were certainly a lot of things to work on, I had to admit that we did what you should do against a weaker opponent we took the lead and we kept it.

I was a bit more impressed with this weekend's victory over Jacksonville. Sure, they were without their starting QB, but I don't think that would have mattered. Our offense seems to really be clicking again, and the defense is looking good up front. We still have some problems in the backfield (Jason David burned again) and Olindo Mare has still got to go. Should we make it to the playoffs, which now looks like it might be a possibility again, I don't want him trotting out there with the game on the line. Unfortunately, Sean Payton doesn't seem to agree.

Overall, though, I'm happy at the halfway point, particularly considering how we started. Certainly 6-2 would be better, but in the NFC South, 4-4 is still very much alive. I am, however, holding my breath as we face the winless Rams next week. On paper, it should be a laugher for us, but the Saints have a historical way of making really bad teams look better and giving winless teams their first W. If we win this week, I'll feel a lot better.