Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Smallest Kindle In The World

I'm old fashioned, at least by futuristic standards. My ipod has no touch screen, my laptop runs Windows XP, my phone is a Blackberry. Yet I didn't think it would be this way: every time a shiny new technological toy appears, I'll start salivating. But apart from the odd netbook and a few high-end camera purchases, I've managed to resist the lure of new stuff these last few years.

Especially when it comes to Kindles, which strike me as a jolly good idea (more convenient and cheaper than physical books in Hong Kong) but blighted by fear of the unknown (how do you stop getting ruined by DRM, or embarassed when a new, better Kindle is released the week after you buy one?).

However, since Amazon want everyone, everywhere to be using a Kindle, they've produced versions of the software to run on almost anything: iPhones, Android phones, tablets, my enormous and unweildy (and intensely hot) HP laptop. There's probably even a Samsung washing machine somewhere that you can use as an ebook reader. Although I suppose you might get nauseous watching the drum spinning constantly.

And there's a Kindle app for the Blackberry, which means although I'm still put off by thoughts of Who Really Owns Your Books? I can at least try it out without worrying about buying something that I'm made to feel is obsolecent within 168 hours.

Only problem is that the screen on my Blackberry is the size of two postage stamps, and it's backlit, just like the monitor I have to stare at every day, and that isn't the nicest reading experience I've ever had. Still, you make do and mend, or at least you squint a bit and try to read harder, or faster. Thank goodness I still have my implausible reading speed, although it was a little curtailed by my reading material: The Big Short, by Michael Lewis.

It's a well written book, not quite the equal of Liar's Poker, but then Lewis has the curse (like Anthony Bourdain) of being defined by his first book. It has great quotations: one banker calls the other 'Chicken Little': "Fuck you, I'm shorting your house" - which is an exchange that makes more sense once you know what CDOs and credit default swaps are.

And therein lies the problem. With a Kindle you still don't have the ability to flick back and forth as you do with a book, which means I have to rely on remembering what a collateralised debt obligation is, and sometimes this is a struggle, like when I would like to explain negative amortising mortgages to my fiancee, and she employs rationality to show I can't know what I'm talking about, because nobody would structure a financial instrument like that ... Well, not now we're not in 2005, anyway. Lewis does a good job of explaining a part of finance that's apparently designed mainly to obfuscate what's going on; I still occasionally got baffled, but it wasn't as confusing as the occasional technical parts of Liar's Poker once got.

Lewis is much angrier in the end of this book, as the major villains who engineered the crash get away with it, and stay rich. And I was angry too by the end, angry that I was going boss-eyed from reading on such an incompatible device.

Looks like I'll have to buy a Kindle after all.


Dennis Wronka said...

With Calibre and the right plugin you can easily remove the nasty DRM bits and actually own the books you paid for.

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