Friday, October 23, 2009

Electronic Books

Technology to read books has been around for a long time, mostly for reading books in some kind of friendly format on a computer. When Amazon released its various iterations of its eBook reader, the Kindle, it initiated a conversation about books beyond the paperback and PC. And the Kindle has been successful in doing for literature what mp3's did for music. Entire libraries can be digitized and stored and a reasonably small device. It's convenient and practical, if not cheap (still in the early phases of this particular type of technology). I figured I'd wait until a better looking, cheaper eBook reader with a touchscreen came out. It still makes me laugh that whenever we have new interactive hardware, the screens are some kind of ugly binary of gray/black, green/black, green/gray (from old Gameboys and PDAs to original iPods and now Kindle).

Barnes & Noble are releasing their Android-powered eBook, the Nook. Dual touchscreen interface (one using that ugly two-tone e-ink) and another interface, in color, utilizing the Android OS for menu control. Still not cheap with a 259 dollar price tag, but it's the early adopters' cross to bear.

I wasn't initially warm to the idea of a battery-powered device that would cost me the equivalent of approximately 43 actual books (softback, $6 each), not including taxes and actually buying books for the device. B&N asserts that there are thousands of books that are free of charge, but I've learned that if someone is giving something away for free, it's because its value is equivalent to roughly zero. But I've been giving it some thought, particularly since I'm moving into a new place soon, and I would be nice if instead of boxes of books, I had one book-sized device to carry. I'm certainly not moving hundreds of CDs with me, as my music collection is almost entirely digital. Why not books? I do enjoy, as it has been stated by many, the tactile experience of holding a real book. But it's irrelevant to the task, because all I really want to do is immerse myself in the story or information and be as comfortable as possible.

Convenience is a big deal for me. I enjoy perusing a book store while I'm there looking for what I actually want, as it's easily my primary method of discovering new books. But I also get out to books stores (more specifically, Barnes & Noble) less frequently because I have less time and less desire to navigate the traffic. An internet-enabled eBook reader affords me the luxury of getting the book I'd like to read the moment I want to read it, provided it's available. And there's no rule stating that I'm henceforth prohibited from physical book stores, should I feel inclined, post-acquisition of an eBook reader.

The price is steep and I can't imagine the price will go down with the first six months, but I'm considering the cost/value of owning the Nook, and with native PDF support I'll already have a healthy cache of books to read before I even begin considering what I'm willing to pay for an electronic book

Sunday, January 25, 2009


It's probably better that we can't read each other's minds. Maybe there's something cathartic about learning about other people, conversations that enable us to build a profile for each person we meet and talk to. But those profiles amount to little more than what we think of ourselves.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Missed Opportunities

Sitting on the train heading into the city. A girl hurriedly sits next to me in the cramped two-seater. I don't look, not much anyway. I couldn't see much of her face as it was obstructed by her just-past-the-should thick black hair. I could see her profile from her high cheekbones to her eyes though, long eyelashes. I looked to see her face in the reflection on the Plexiglas barrier about four seats ahead of me, but it was cut at an angle so that all I could see, again, was her eyes. This new mystery of what this girl looked like was making me anxious, unsettled. She wore all black: heavy winter jacket, thin knit gloves, slacks. She opens up a book and starts to trace the sentences, reading. I wondered what type of girl reads "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell" and without knowing anything about book, assumed a girl who likes subjects about drinking in hell must be pretty interesting.

She had a particular scent, hard to place but it wasn't overwhelming, simply detectable and pleasant. Hint of soap, some kind of earthy lotion a girl might acquire at Lush, and something flowery. I tilted my 120GB Zune at an angle so that she could see the screen light up with the cover of the newest Revolting Cocks album. A litmus test, because I'm assuming that this girl may have similar interests. More than assume, it's this bizarre, overwhelming attraction to a girl whose face I can't see and whom I've never met in my life. She's too busy reading, doesn't even notice. Her head is down, body drawing into itself except for her black gloved finger as it scans along each sentence.

I want to remove my headphones and get her attention. Not even with conversation, just keywords, meta tags spoken aloud to see if she responds to any of it. References to counter-culture, music and literature. It isn't just the mystery that compels me. As soon as she sat down, before I even looked in her direction, I became aware of her in some distantly visceral, primal way. I'm not even using artistic license there, it was really like that. But I can't even see her, and I look at some of the other people standing around, some of them were looking at her too, which probably meant she was pretty - or hideously deformed from the mouth down. If I did talk to her, would the people watched with detached interest as she asked me to please stop bothering her with incoherent gibberish? "What the fuck is a 'Skinny Puppy'"?

I started thinking about missed opportunities. What if this girl sitting next to me, whom I will never get to know because it's the wrong time, was the one woman on earth I could effortlessly spend the rest of my life with? Should I let awkward people on a too-close-for-comfort train ride inhibit lifelong happiness? And what if I did talk to her, and she felt my presence too, and inexplicable comfort by being near me. I thought about this for the rest of the ride to 16th Street. What do you call a missed opportunity in slow motion? 

I just got out of a relationship with a smart and beautiful woman. It had to end because my career is my first priority, and it's been a very rough ten years getting it to this point. But there was a powerful reaction the this girl as she sat next to me, and I would imagine that it is that kind of sudden shift in any person's awareness that causes a re-evaluation of things. The train stops and the girl gets up, makes her way to the door. The crowd continues to obscure her from my view but I finally catch a glimpse of her though the window as she walks in the opposite direction, forever unknown to me. She is beautiful.