Sometimes you eat the long tail, sometimes it eats you

Chris Anderson’s long tail graph The explosion of the Internet and e-commerce and the interconnectedness of everything is generally A Really Good Thing. As Wired editor Chris Anderson has explained ad nauseam on his blog, we’re in age where more different things sell to fewer people and the collective weight of all that less-popular stuff is growing. The “long tail” is a reference to a sales distribution graph’s thinner, outer region (hint: the yellow area of this picture from Anderson’s web site).

So when I got all excited about the song “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” in Wes Anderson’s short film Hotel Chevalier, I was fascinated to learn via Wikipedia that the singer, Peter Sarstedt, had also recorded a sequel. A little sleuthing around Google uncovered that the later track, called “The Last of the Breed,” was on Sarstedt’s 1997 album England’s Lane. It wasn’t on any download service I checked at the time, so some more sleuthing around found the entire CD available for purchase with a four week wait from a vendor on’s UK site.

I ordered and waited and waited and waited. It took so long I almost forgot I had ordered it when it arrived. I ripped off the plastic, pushed the disk into my CD player and skipped ahead to the song. And — ugh — it was horrible. Whatever happened to poor Mister Sarstedt between the two recordings, he completely lost the charming and entrancing style that made “Where do you go to” so great. Oh well. Sometimes you eat the long tail, sometimes the long tail eats you.

Horrible Sarstedt album

Inching the household up to Mac OS X 10.5

Slowly I turned, inch by inch…well, not literally. But with the first dot-1 update out to Apple’s new operating system, Leopard, and more updated programs available as well, I’m inching my household towards full upgrade-hood. As I mentioned the other day, my antiquated, first gen Mac mini was the first to get hit with Leopard since its role is to serve as little more than a test bed for updates and an emergency backup computer. That went fine though it took forever.

By this week, Adobe had issued an update to Lightroom making it fully compatible, VMWare’s virtual PC program Fusion was ready and HP had a beta driver for its all-in-one printers. So I decided to upgrade my 24″ iMac. I did an upgrade installation which took about 30 or 40 minutes and everything seems pretty peachy. I’m not a fan of the new dock but I’m getting used to it. The finder is slightly if noticeably snappier. And beyond that. hmm, not much has been all that different yet. I’ll have to set up the Time Machine backup feature and try the spaces virtual screens next. Stay tuned.

Upgrading my iMac to Leopard

Reclaiming an ancient PocketPC as a web browser

Our reclaimed, wifi enabled Cassiopeia Cleaning out the attic closet recently, I came across an ancient Casio PocketPC that I must have bought six or seven years ago, the Cassiopeia E-115. It’s a cute little device featuring a smallish, color touch-screen and compact flash card slot. My son was immediately interested in reclaiming it but we couldn’t get it to boot up or hold a charge.

A quick Google search landed a replacement battery (fully removable!) for about $20. That arrived in a few days and worked great. Next, we couldn’t help but notice that even though the Cassiopeia has a version of Internet Explorer, it had no way to get online. So another couple of Google and Amazon searches later, we located a compact flash slot-compatible wifi card by D-link, the DCF-650w, with drivers for Windows CE 3.0 still available for download. That came after a few days but how to get the wifi driver software onto Cassiopeia?

I tried loading them on a compact flash card but they wouldn’t install. A closer look at the driver software instructions suggested using Microsoft’s Active Sync program. I’m thinking at this point, too bad we threw away all the disks that came with Cassiopeia. Then again, exactly which computer in our house could still run Active Sync circa year 2000 even if I had the disks?

On a lark, I downloaded the current version of Active Sync from Microsoft onto one of our PCs, plugged in the Cassiopeia’s serial-port dock and plunked the little sucker down. Surprise, surprise, the 2007 Active Sync running on a Windows XP system recognized the Cassiopeia and installed the D-link drivers. Seconds later we were cruising the web, as the picture above demonstrates. Sweet.

Ignore that cranky Mossberg and his Kindle whine

Cranky Mossberg I kept meaning to predict that Wall Street Journal gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg was going to pan the Amazon Kindle e-book reader because he’s hyper-sensitive to minor flaws. But life intervened and I didn’t get the chance. And, of course, now he has. Sometimes Mossberg is right on, but unfortunately with the Kindle, he’s far off-base.

Take for example, his complaint — and it’s a common one — that the buttons on the Kindle are confusing, illogical or too easy to press. He’s like a guy who gets into a new car for the first time and complains that the parking break isn’t where he expected it would be. Sure — a button may not be where you expected it before you had a Kindle. But use the Kindle for an hour or two and it becomes second nature. The big, easy to push buttons are a benefit, too. You don’t have to draw your eyes or your thoughts away from the text to turn the page JUST LIKE A BOOK.

Mossberg and other button whiners want the Kindle redesigned to work better for the first hour and much, much worse for the next two years. I’ve quickly internalized how to pick up and hold the Kindle without any inadvertent button pushes and so will you. His complaints about the leather cover and the on-off switch are similar. The power button is “hidden on the back.” Right – it’s hidden there until the first time you see it and then it’s not hidden ever again.

Mossberg also makes the common factual mistake of claiming that to put your own files on the Kindle “you have to email them to Amazon for conversion to a proprietary Kindle format.” Kindle handles text files with no conversion and other files can be converted on your own PC with the free Mobipocket Creator software, which handles Word, PDF and HTML formats. It’s less burdensome than burning songs off a CD into MP3 format.

There’s also no mention in his review of many of the Kindle’s best features for avid readers. As I noted the other day, the Kindle offers a reading experience for lengthy hardcovers that is in many ways better than reading a lengthy hardcover. It’s more comfortable to hold in a variety of positions, it weighs less, it fits more easily in your briefcase, it costs less (a lot less!) and you don’t even have to go to the book store to get your book. You can change the size of the typeface, smaller for high-speed reading and bigger when you get a little drowsy before bed. You can easily follow up references over the Internet without putting your Kindle down. You can do full word searches beyond what any printed index can do and you can look up any word in Kindle’s dictionary lickety-split.

Kindle surely isn’t perfect. Book listings should offer more organization options and there ought to be a way to gift a Kindle title to a friend, as Mossberg requests. But these are very minor nits and ones that Amazon can easily fix with a software upgrade. And why no mention of the fact that unlike the first generation ipod, which only worked on Macs, or the current Zune, which only works on Windows, the Kindle’s self-contained book store model works with Mac, Windows, Linux or any other operating system. Imperfect it may be, but Kindle is ready for prime time.

Kindle reviews by folks who actually have seen one

Amidst all the misinformation about Amazon’s new Kindle electronic book reader, particularly coming from people who have never touched or used it, here’s a list of reviews from the fact-based segment of techdom:

Gizmodo checks Kindle in the bedroom, on an airplane and atop the porcelain throne.

Not quite a home run, just a triple, according to David Pogue.

First impressions of Kindle’s features, from Peter Glaskowsky

Michael Parekh looks past the nitpickers.

Christian Cantrell has one of the more detailed and accurate reviews.

jkOnTheRun uses a Kindle for a few days and critiques the button placement and screen contrast.

And perhaps Platform Agnostic best hit the nail on the head:

It’s quite possible to still love “real” books and benefit from the portability and interactivity offered by an eBook reader like Kindle. They’re not mutually exclusive. Books I plan to share with others or that do not adapt well to the eBook medium (like coffee table books and those with complex illustrations and graphics) I will still buy in “dead tree” format. Books I intend to read and reference and that I’d like to always have with me in a highly readable and accessible format I’ll buy on the Kindle. Best of both worlds.

UPDATE: Robert Scoble absolutely hates his. Is Scoble doing his best Steve Ballmer imitation on this video or what?

UPDATE2: Mike Elgin, former ebook critic, flips to the other side and spells out many underappreciated Kindle features.

UPDATE3: Excellent six-day diary of living with Kindle.

UPDATE4: Josh Taylor TechRepublic took his Kindle on a Thanksgiving vacation to the Caribbean and reports that he’s “fallen in deep like with it.”

P.S. I was going to list some of the worst offenders, too, but why drive up their page rank…

Ignore the static: Kindle is great for reading

Kindle showing Neuromancer

Wow, the new electronic book reader from Amazon, Kindle, sure is getting a lot of absurdly misguided and factually incorrect criticism. My fingers are getting sore from responding to such a tide of disinformation in comment boxes scattered across a zillion web sites. Just this morning, I’ve been writing a lengthy comment to a Kindle critique on Rex Hammock’s usually excellent blog. (And actually, Hammock — unlike others — makes clear he’s not reviewing the product but giving a first blush reaction to the specs and marketing spin. I just happened to be commenting on his post when I decided to write this post! A more annoying example would be this silly attempt to review via photos).

So in the interest of saving my carpal tunnel, here’s a summary of some of my rebuttals, refutations and excoriations. Bottom line: the Kindle rocks. If you love to read, if you’re on the go, if you like gadgets, get one.

The biggest mistake Hammock and others have made is dissing the Kindle’s feature set without actually having used one. Turns out, the e-ink screen, FREE wireless broadband connection, open publishing platform and FREE web backup storage are all innovative, useful, well-designed features. The experience of using a Kindle is fun and adds to, rather than detracts from, the experience of reading.

With the mobile broadband connection, not only is the bookstore always with you but the collective knowledge of the Internet is always with you. While reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” last night, I came across a passage about Samuel Chase arguing an anti-slavery case in the Supreme Court called Jones v. Vanzandt. Wanting to know a bit more, I shifted over to the Kindle’s Internet browser and within a few clicks and hops from Google, found a copy of Chase’s Supreme Court brief. Reading history, it’s transformative to be able to flip to original sources and related material without getting up off the couch.

You can also access free ebooks on the Internet. I have a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” found via Google and downloaded a few seconds later. Amazon stores all your purchased books and notes “in the cloud” so everything is backed up. You can delete a purchase and re-download it anytime later. You can also associate up to six Kindles with one Amazon account and freely download any purchase to any of the Kindles simultaneously. Unlike iTunes, Amazon also has opened its Kindle publishing platform so anyone can upload a book, set a price and start selling to Kindle users. I also heartily endorse the decision to make it PC-free. Mac users, Linux users, all are welcome. Connect the Kindle via USB and it’s just a drive. All of these features seem smart, useful and decidedly now.

Using the Kindle, hands on In terms of the form factor and design, the e-ink screen allows loooong battery life and very crisp text in a font that’s especially easy to read. There is no noticeable eye strain or the feeling of tired eyes I get reading long documents on my laptop. The keyboard comes in handy when you want to search, use the Internet or take notes, but the most of the keys are inert or inactive while you’re reading a book, so you can put your fingers on that part of the device for comfort. Used in its little leather portfolio, the Kindle becomes very natural to hold comfortably for reading at several angles. It’s much more convenient that propping up a weighty hardcover, not to mention lighter to throw in your briefcase.

Some people have wrongly said that you can only read ebooks bought from Amazon on Kindle. Not true. You can put any text document on directly, like any of the thousands of ebooks on Project Gutenberg. You can also quickly and easily convert any HTML, PDF or Microsoft Word file for use on Kindle, either by emailing the files to Amazon or by using the free software Mobipocket Creator on your own computer. You only pay a 10 cent fee if you email a document for conversion to Amazon and want it delivered wirelessly to your Kindle. Converted files sent back to your computer are free.

And ebook vendors like Baen are selling unprotected files you can convert for Kindle reading. Once the Kindle builds a sizable audience, as I expect it will, the publishing and ebook elephants will start dancing to Amazon’s tune. Why can I only download out-of-copyright books from Google in a PDF image format? How about HTML? The biggest current online ebook sellers offer a variety of competing, incompatible DRM download formats. That could all change quickly. The reason the record labels started to allow DRM-free music sales was because Apple had become so powerful and was never going to allow others to use its Fairplay DRM format. When Kindle users likewise dominate the world of ebooks, and sales of ebooks start rising faster than ever before, other companies will be pushed to change.

To be continued…for all my subsequent Kindle coverage, see my Kindle tag.

Time for a seasonal photo update

It’s been getting colder and colder up in here in the Boston burbs and the leaves are turning all sorts of excellent colors. Seemed like an excellent time to swap out the picture at the top of the blog for something a little more seasonal. If you’re an RSS devotee, stop by to see the new view.

Test bed Leopard upgrade reveals some issues

Well, the UPS man finally brought my family pack upgrade copy of Mac OS X 10.5 aka Leopard. As I mentioned the other day, I have no immediate plans to install it on either of my main systems, the 24″ iMac or 15″ MacBook Pro, known respectively as “Gigantico” and “Lunar Excursion Module” or LEM for short. But that’s exactly why I still have a almost-three-year-old, original issue Mac mini on hand. With a 1.25 GHz G4 processor, 512 MB of RAM and a hard drive with just 15 GB free, the mini juuuussst barely meets Leopard’s minimum specs. No doubt as a result, installation took almost three HOURS! Ouch. But now it’s up and running.

What problems have I hit so far? Gizmo Project, a slick Voice-over-Internet-Protocol program that gives me a second phone line for $35 a year, can’t log in. On Gizmo’s message boards, they’re talking about a beta release that fixes some people’s issues. Apparently, many VoIP programs have been hit by Leopard issues. Next up, Adobe Lightroom, the repository of all my digital photo-y goodness, can’t print and generally acts wonky. Adobe is promising a fix by mid-November.

In the category of mere annoyance, iChat, as always recognizes my iSight camera but the newly installed version of my favorite time waster, Photo Booth, inexplicably says there is no camera attached if iChat is running. On the other hand, Photo Booth now has a command to get fix the mirror reversal effect that drives me bananas (See “Flip Photo” and “Auto Flip New Photos” under the edit menu). UPDATE: Ooops, that flip feature was there all along – how did I miss it?

In terms of some of the smaller apps I use that seem to work just fine, my password cataloger Wallet seems great, Audacity, an open source audio editor, is fine,’s new MP3 downloading app works fine, and myNotes, a favored lightweight note keeper, is all aces (and appears to be more Spotlight friendly).

Leopard upgrade? Not today, baby

Leopard box
Excited about Apple’s new Leopard OS X upgrade? Me, too. It’s got plenty of desirable new features, great and small. Did the Fed-Ex guy just drop it off and you’ve ripped open the box and got the shiny disk right in your hands? You’re drooling as you read the back of the package and start to slide the disk into your main-stay Mac? HALT! STOP! CEASE! DESIST!

Really, I’m not kidding. Wait. All those new features will be just as wonderful in a few days, after the crazy first responders have had time to upgrade and uncover any nasty bugs, limitations or incompatibilities. Who knows, maybe this is the upgrade that breaks your favorite program that hasn’t been updated yet. Or maybe today is the day Apple turned its back on your old scanner in the middle of a big photo digitization project. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when it comes to operating system upgrades, first generation hardware and new hot sauce recipes, hurry up and wait. Let somebody else be the guinea pig this time.

UPDATE: For example, one big problem already reported (via Dave Winer)