Next Issue: Can Magazines on Tablet Computers Replace Printed Magazines?

Years ago I gave up subscribing and buying paper magazines in hopes of going paperless.  Oh, I’d break the rules and buy a magazine now and then.  Then recently a guy a work started giving me his magazines after he read them with recommendations of articles to read.  I started discovering that some articles found in magazines are vastly superior to most of the free articles I was finding on the web.  I guess it’s a case of getting what you pay for.  I also discovered for some subjects its much more fun to browse a magazine than the web.

So I started back on a couple of paper magazine and quickly discovered I really don’t like them piling up.  Once you go paperless, it’s hard to go back to paper.  Then I discovered Next Issue.  For $15 a month I got digital access to a library of magazines.  (There’s also a $9.99 version with fewer magazine.)  I quickly rediscovered just how much I love magazines.  The only trouble is they don’t look very good on my iPad 2.

next-issue-sample

That’s not completely true.  Some look much better than others.  For the most part the magazines look like their paper versions – I see all the editorial content and the ads.  Some even have extras, like animations, film clips, and multiple view of photos, so in a sense they are super-magazines.  And some magazines actually reformat their content slightly to take advantage of tablets.  So when you get to an article you page down to read it, rather than page right, for a few pages, and then skipping to page 79 to finish the thing.  The magazines that use this feature tend to format their content in a larger font that’s easy to read without magnification – and that looks best on older tablets like the iPad 2.  Other magazines just give you two views of a static page, one that fits the screen on the tablet, and another brought up by double tapping that is greatly magnified that you slide around with your finger to read.

I’ve been reading for weeks with my old iPad 2, and getting into this new method of magazine reading, all the while thinking about how it could be better.  Mostly I thought about having to buy an iPad Air.

I then borrowed my wife’s Kindle Fire HD with a 7” screen and spent an evening reading my favorite magazines.  The Kindle HD has much better resolution than the iPad 2, a pre-retina display model.  Switching between the two  devices, taught me something about reading magazines on  a tablet, and made me realize that Apple no longer has a lock on tablet computers.  Here’s what I learned:

  1. Resolution matters – the more the better.  Sometimes it’s nicer to read small fonts than to tap and magnify
  2. 7” tablets are much easier to hold and read for longer periods of time
  3. 10” tablets make the photos pop out more, so it’s more fun to look at pictures with a larger screen
  4. If the magazine formats for the tablet, it’s much easier to read on a 7” screen
  5. If the magazine doesn’t format for the tablet, it’s much easier to read on a 10” screen
  6. An aspect ratio of 4:3 is probably better for magazines than 16:10, but not always
  7. I have to use a reading stand with the larger tablet for long periods of reading
  8. A 7” screen is more conducive of carrying around
  9. I’d love to be able to print a whole article, or clip it to Evernote.  The iOS version of Next Issue will let me AirPrint a page at a time.
  10. If I could clip an article to Evernote (or .pdf) I could print it from Evernote
  11. Tablets offer a way for magazines to offer more creative layouts, and even multimedia

Next Issue is far from perfect, but I still feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.  I would be happier if I could find just the right tablet, if I could save articles, and if I could get a few more magazines.  Of course this is dealing with two different issues.  One, can I enjoy reading a magazine exclusively on a tablet and give up print copies?  And two, does Next Issue offer everything I want to read?

Next Issue is a disruptive technology in the same way Netflix was a game changer.  I essentially stopped buying videos after I adapted to Netflix.  Will I give up buying magazines too?  Next Issue has a nice selection of over 125 magazines, but it doesn’t have The Atlantic, Scientific American, Discover, Sky and Telescope, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The New York Review of Books, Linux Journal, and others that I like.

next-issue-sample2

But like I said, that’s two issues when regarding whether can I give up paper magazines for reading magazines on a tablet.  If I had a Kindle Fire HDX, either 7” or 8.9” screen, or an Apple iPad Air or Mini with Retina Display, or a Nexus 7 or 10, or Samsung Note 10.1 2014, I might be able to conclusively answer the first part of the question.  They have the dots per inch resolution that will make tablets sharp enough to read small print.  And they might even make photography stand out more.  However, paper still wins on some factors.

If I can’t clip to Evernote or .pdf, printed magazines win on the “tearing an article out to save” factor.  Also, for “making a photocopy” factor.  They also win on “lending/giving to a friend” factor.  But tablets win on “these magazines are driving me crazy piling up around the house” factor.  Tablets also win on the “where the hell did I put that magazine” factor.  They also win on the “I wish I had that magazine with me” factor because Next issue works from the smartphone and iPod touch.

It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall.  Paper and printing will eventually go away.  Whether magazine library subscriptions like Next Issue will become standard is still to be decided.  Netflix hasn’t killed the DVD buying business, but it’s changed it.  Netflix did kill off the local video store, and I wonder if tablets will do that to newsstands?

JWH – 1/5/14

Going Paperless with Dropbox

Life is full of paperwork, both printed and digital.  Our lives generate thousands of documents that chronicles our existence.  When my mother died several years ago I had to go through boxes and boxes that were a paper trail of her life.  It took months to close out her affairs to the point where I could destroy the paperwork.  In the end I had one small folder of documents and many boxes of photographs.

When I die I hope to leave my wife a well organized Dropbox folder that is a digital snapshot of my life.  I want to die paperless.  I’ve been working on going paperless since 2008.

People have been talking about our society giving up paper for decades but it’s never been practical.  We’re getting close.  By 2025, we’ll essentially be a paperless society I hope.  I doubt the printed document will go away entirely, who would want a digital diploma or marriage certificate?

We still need to save all those digital documents somewhere, and I think Dropbox, or its kin, will be the answer.  Years ago I had hoped regulated data banks would have appeared for us to use, but I guess that was wishful thinking on my part.

What’s needed is transition technology.  Businesses have been using optical imaging systems to go paperless since the 1980s.  Home users have had scanners for almost as long, but developing a complete home system for storing documents safely has not been practical until cloud storage became cheap, and it’s still not as safe as the data banks I imagined.  Nobody is regulating data storage.

Three technologies have emerged that move us closer to the goal of being a paperless society.

  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Scanners with PDF scanning

dropbox

Dropbox, and it’s competitors Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, SkyDrive, Box.net, etc., offers us reasonably safe places to put our digital files.  Scanning files to a laptop that could be stolen, burned up in a fire, or eaten by viruses wasn’t a good solution.  Leaving your important paper files at home in a cheap filing cabinet wasn’t really that safe either.  If you treasure your family photos, they’re one disaster away from oblivion if you only have a single copy – paper or digital.  Digitizing important files and keeping them in multiple locations is the prudent way to go.

I’ve been using Dropbox for awhile and it’s taken time to appreciate what Dropbox can do for me.  It’s also taken time to learn how to create a folder organization structure to use with Dropbox.  Although my system is not perfected,  I feel I’m finally on to something.  It takes time to learn all the tricks, like naming documents by date order (i.e. 2009-05-17-connell-letter.pdf) or configuring the default scan to folder.  I like scanning to a \scan folder on my c: drive so I can easily drag and file to another window that contains my Dropbox folders.  Right now I have a flatbed scanner but I’m looking at a Fujitsu S1300i ScanSnap that has simple document feeder that can scan both sides of a document and works directly with Dropbox and Evernote.

The idea is to store all my paperwork and photos digitally in an electronic folder system that makes finding stuff easy, and it’s protected by backing up to multiple sites.

What really made things come together was when my wife got out our old flatbed scanner to scan her family photos for Christmas presents and I noticed the PDF Scan feature.  I tend to let papers and mail pile up on my desk until the top gets covered in a foot paper.  Every year I swear I’ll never let this happen again, but I do.  This year I discovered how easy it is to scan documents I want to save and file them in Dropbox.

At first I didn’t trust Dropbox for long term storage.  I just used it for temporary storage, like if I had a document at work that I wanted to work on at home.  Then I realized how Dropbox functioned.  I had assumed the files were only stored on a remote server.  That’s not how it works.  Your files are replicated from your Dropbox folder on your local machine and the working copy remains on your computer.  A copy is stored at the Dropbox site.  This means Dropbox acts like a backup system.  Not only that, if you have a second computer, the files are replicated to that computer too.  My Dropbox files are replicated to five computers.  I can also call up those files on my iPad and iPod touch.  That’s two PCs at home, and on a PC, Mac and Linux machines at work.

Counting Dropbox’s storage, that means my files are stored on six machines in three locations.  That’s pretty safe I think.  I assume Dropbox backs up my files too because they offer 30 days of free undeletes and for $39 a year, unlimited undeletes.  And Dropbox encrypts files and uses https to transfer files.  I could also encrypt those files again with something like TrueCrypt, if I was worried about Dropbox poking into my business, which I’m not at the moment.

Right now I have 14gb of unpaid space on Dropbox and I’m using 6gb.  That’s not enough for my MP3 songs and audiobooks, but it is for all my writing, photographs and scanned paperwork.  I do have my music library backed up on Amazon and Google Music cloud drives, so I’m well covered for MP3 files.  I also have 20gb of space at Amazon for non MP3 files but it’s not as flexible and convenient to use as Dropbox.  And I have 25gb on SkyDrive.  Eventually, as an extra backup protection I might replicate my Dropbox folder to one of my other cloud drive folders.

The key to making this work is the folder filing system I’m creating.  So far these are my top level folders:

dropbox-files

My original idea was to create top level folders based on file format types, but I wanted easier access for my most used folders, so I broke Fiction and Nonfiction out of Word Documents.

Under Biographical I have folders for Medical History, Timeline and Notes.   I was keeping text files of to do lists, phone lists, email lists, book lists, etc. in a folder called Notes but I moved it under Biographical.  Do I want to think, “Oh it’s a text file, so look under Notes,” or do I want to think, “Where’s that timeline of schools I went to,” and think Biographical?  I decided to file by meaning rather than file format.

I also have Photos and Wallpaper which both store .jpg files, and I might combine them, but it’s nice to separate family photos from my archive of desktop pictures, screensaver art and art history galleries.

Most everything I save for reference gets scanned and made into a PDF, which has a more elaborate folder structure.  I haven’t scanned my entire filing cabinet yet, and probably won’t, at least not any time soon.  However, I have scanned current paper work and certain old folders, and it wasn’t that much work.  I wish I had a sheet feeder system like our optical imaging systems at work, but I don’t know if they’re worth the buying right now.   I listen to audiobooks as I scan, killing two birds with one stone.

I had a folder of old letters, some 50+ years old, that existed before email, that I scanned and put into Dropbox.   I haven’t decided yet about banking, tax and other business documents.  I worry about privacy and whether or not my digital copy is valid in a legal dispute.  Some paper documents I might save for sentimental reasons, like old report cards or letters from my grandmother, but I do want them digitized.

I’ve discovered that many paper manuals I’ve been saving for my TV, receiver, CD player, cameras, etc. are online as PDFs.   So I saved those PDFs to my Dropbox and threw away my paper copies.  I also found articles I have clipped are often still online, so I found and saved those to Evernote, and threw away my paper copies.  Others I scanned and saved to Dropbox, although Evernote also will store PDF.  In fact, some of the documents I’m storing in Dropbox might be better suited for Evernote, which indexes files for quick retrieval.

For 2013 I need to study the pros and cons of Evernote versus Dropbox.  Right now if I wrote it, it goes in Dropbox, if someone else wrote it, it goes in Evernote.  Except for ebooks.  Normally Amazon handles all my ebooks, but occasionally I get ebooks from places other than Amazon, and I have to maintain the original.  Although I’m thinking about converting .epub books to .mobi with Calibre and sending them to my Kindle.   So that folder might disappear.

One thing I’ve learned is to depend on companies that maintain my digital purchases like Amazon for music and Audible for audiobooks.

Right now I’m using Dropbox as my primary storage for photographs but that could change if I find a photo site that does more.  But Dropbox is so universal that I find it hard to believe other sites could compete.  And if I combine Pixlr.com with Dropbox I can do snappy photo editing on the fly.

Back in 2008 I started down my road of Going Paperless by cancelling my magazines and newspapers.  This has been a slow process.  My mailbox probably gets 90% less paper each week.  I still have to write companies telling them not to send catalogs.  And I still get mail for people long dead.  Most of the other stuff is official documents I feel I must save.  I’m going to look into seeing about getting my health insurance, 401K, credit card and banking statements online, but I want to research the legal safety issues about that first.

Cleaning Out Computer Files

Once I started filing scanned documents into Dropbox I realized I could clean up my computer drives by copying files to Dropbox too.  I have several computers and many external drives that have filled up with up with decades of digital crap, and backups of crap, and backups of backups.  I’ve been going through them copying important files I want to save to Dropbox and then deleting the others.  I’ve found unique photographs I want to keep hidden on different drives, so this process has helped consolidate my picture library.

I’m still worry about the ultimate safety of Dropbox.  Because it replicates copies to all my computers it makes me feel fairly safer overall.  I’m off for the holidays, so I remotely connected to my computer at work and verified that all the files I’m been saving to Dropbox were replicated to my work computer, and they are.  My fear now is Dropbox will go crazy and delete all my files off all my computers.  If you delete a file from Dropbox it’s eventually deleted from all your computers.  If Dropbox went berserk I could unplug the Ethernet cable before I turned on one of my computers and rescue those files.  I could use a replicating program and copy my Dropbox files to my Amazon Cloud Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive, but I’d really like to trust Dropbox.  Once I clean out all my computer files, scan my paper files and create the perfect folder filing system, I don’t want it to get out of sync again.

I also made Dropbox my default folder in Windows.  Thus I won’t be tempted by having a real folder of files and a Dropbox folder of files to maintain.  It’s all one now.

Future Dropbox Projects

Susan’s family history photo project was a big hit at our Christmas Eve party.  She assembled a three generation history of her family starting with her mother and father that was told in 386 photographs.  I’m encouraging her to move it to Dropbox or another cloud site to expand on it.  I also want to create photo histories for my mother and father’s families, and get my cousins to add their photos to mine to build a super photo history.  When my mother died several years ago I inherited all her family photos, and my dad’s family photos.  I’ve been meaning for years to make copies for my cousins.  Now I’m thinking Dropbox will solve that problem.

The Future of Dropbox

I’m not sure Dropbox is the ultimate digital bank vault for my files, but it’s what I’m using at the moment.  I might get burned.  Dropbox could go out of business.  Right now I have enough free space that I don’t need to pay.  What it’s that’s true with everyone?  How can Dropbox make money.  Right now the cheapest plan is $99 for 100gb.  I wish they had a $49 plan for 50gb, that would make a better introductory price.

Or better yet, I wished Dropbox charged a straight $1 per gigabyte per year and we could buy as few or many as we wanted.

You can get free space on Dropbox.  You start with 2 gigabytes by joining but you earn more by getting others to join, and you get bonus space if you join from a referral.  If you don’t have Dropbox use this link and both of us will get 500 megabytes of additional free space.  That means you start with 2.5 gigabytes by using my referral.

As I switch to reading on the Kindle and iPad, I tend to think my book collection will shrink.  Dropbox works wonderful from tablets.  I tend to think sometime in the near future all my books, magazines, photographs, personal documents, videos, music albums, etc. will be on my tablet computer, and my home office will have just furniture and a computer with a big screen and great sound system.

Other Dropbox Tips

JWH – 12/26/12

Web Sites I Want – Best Essays from Printed Magazines

Even with the social bookmarking sites, reading from the internet is like drinking from a fire hose.  What I’d like to see is highly selective bookmarking site, and in particular, the one I’d love to have most would be Best Essays From Printed Magazines.  The top writing on the net is usually reprinted from the major print magazines, but those essays are overshadowed by the gigantic volume of web journalism.  Hey, I’m a blogger and love getting readers, and I love reading blogs, but the heaviest of the heavy duty essays are still from print magazines.  The cutthroat survival of the fittest in the print magazine industry by its very nature acquires the best writing.

That’s why I’d like a site that helps me find the best essays over 1,000 words.  Adding the length requirement is important because too many magazines have gone to filling up their pages with short web level writing.  Social bookmarking sites like delicious and StumbleUpon are great for snacking on popcorn and candy level reads, but not so yummy if you’re looking for literary steak.  Yes, they will link to long quality essays from printed magazines, but you have to wade through zillions of peanut size stories of questionable value, more akin to Television’s funniest videos in informational nutrition.

No, I want a site that’s very specific and limited.  I’d like an editorial board that selects the Top 100 magazines that publishes their content on the web, and offers a system that lets users bookmark and vote on the best essays they are reading.  Hell, I’d even pay to subscribe to such a site if they got permission to reprint articles that don’t get reprinted on the web.

The web has gotten too big and mangy, so when I want to know something I go to a specific site, mainly Wikipedia.  I’ve given up subscribing to magazines, mainly because I’m against paper for environmental reasons, but also because when I was subscribing to dozens of magazines, all too often I’d only find a good article here and there.  Most of the content was filler, like the web.  I guess I’ve gotten spoiled by the iTunes model – who wants to buy an album when it’s the hit song you want.  This is why I prefer Netflix to cable TV.  We need more ways to cut out the noise.

Here’s are examples of the kind of long essays I’d like to read:

I guess what I really want is a web version of the Best American Series to be published monthly, instead of the yearly printed volumes they have now.  And if they wanted to make extra money, reprint the monthly web site editions as ebooks for $9.99 for Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc.

JWH – 5/12/10

The Weight of Paper

Nanny, my grandmother on my mother’s side, was born in 1881 and grew up before the automobile, airplane, radio and silent film.  She watched all the technology emerged that in my boyhood I took for granted, like electricity, the telephone, refrigerators, cloth washers and dryers, air conditioners, etc.  She died a couple years after Neil and Buzz landed on the Moon. 

My mother was born in 1916 and grew up with the radio, at a time when movies morphed from silent pictures into talkies, watched the television age emerge, drove across the country before the interstate highway system was built, and lived long enough to see computers become personal, phones stored in pockets and the world wired for computer networks, although she refused to own a cell phone or computer. 

I was born in 1951, and I’m not sure if I’ve seen as much dramatic cultural change as those two women, but I grew up in front of a TV, watching the advent of the space age, the computer age and the digital age, and if I live long enough I might see far more dramatic transformations.  They both lived to 91, and if I could live as long, I will see the world change as much as they did from 1881 and 1916 until 1951.

Computers are changing the way we all live, but have they changed us as much as the automobile, airplane, radio, movie and television?  Current digital technology often makes me dislike the way I used to do things, even though I feel strong nostalgia for how things were. Take reading for instance, all aspects of my reading habits have changed in my lifetime.  I now listen to books on an iPod, or read them printed on small digital screens like in Star Trek.  For a more specific example, my wife is nagging me about my magazine collection, housed in two six foot high bookcases. 

I love magazines, and spent six years working in a Periodicals department at a university library.  My home library contains hundreds of issues from dozens of titles.  Even Susan asks, “Can’t you get them on online?”  I stopped reading newspapers years ago, and I might stop reading magazines soon.  I prefer audio books now, even though I spent my whole life as a bookworm, and 99% of the words I read with my eyes each day come through my computer screen.  I even listen to magazines, like The New Yorker, and prefer it to reading.

The weight of a single sheet of paper is almost unnoticeable, but the weight of twelve shelves of magazines is quite heavy.  Since we had new flooring put in this month, I had to move four bookcases of books, and two bookcases of magazines and the weight of that paper was almost backbreaking.  How many trees went into making all that paper?  What was the impact on the environment?

Awhile back, to do my bit to fight global warming, I started going paperless, and cut my magazines subscriptions from over 20 to just 2 (Sky and Telescope and Rolling Stone – what an odd couple, huh?).  But I kept all my old issues hoping to get the maximum reading value someday, and maybe even clip the best articles to scan into my computer.  I’m at point in time when I’m shifting away from one kind of living, with paper, and moving into another way of life, without paper. 

I still buy an occasional mag at the bookstore, but even that makes me feel guilty, because that means my pile of unfinished magazines keeps growing, and more trees were cut down.  I tend to flip through a magazine and read the shorter pieces and tell myself that I’ve just got to find time for those great longer pieces someday, but I seldom do.  The weight of paper can also be measured in time, and I have a huge amount of time theoretically reserved for that reading.  Throwing all those magazines out will reduce the weight of possessions and free up a lot of imagined obligated hours, probably in the thousands.

I have nice long runs of Sky and Telescope, Astronomy Magazine, New Scientist, Scientific American, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Popular Photography and many others.  I like to think of them as my reference library, but honestly, I rarely refer to them.  Reading online has become my habitual way of info-gathering.  And since I often read online articles about the dwindling subscriber base to newspapers and periodicals, I’m guessing there are many people like me.  If only they made a Kindle-like reading device with a large full-colored screen, I’d probably do 100% my eye reading from online sources.

But I must also emphasize the shift from eye reading to ear reading has been very important to me.  That’s another paradigm shift, and I think it scares people in the literacy profession.

Throwing away my magazine collection would be like throwing away the past.  According to Wikipedia, general interest magazines started in 1731 with The Gentleman’s Magazine, so will we see the era of the printed magazine end before it’s 300th anniversary?  When I was born the pulp magazine format was dying and the science fiction and fantasy digest magazine was beginning.  Today those digests are disappearing and a new crop of online SF/F magazines are emerging.  Read Jason Sanford’s recent survey of these new short story venues for emerging writers of fantastic fiction.  Will getting published be as exciting?  It will certainly be easier to send copies to your friends.

Today I read “Ten things mobiles have made, or will make, obsolete.”  Among the ten items was paper, (also included were pay phones, landline home phones, MP3 players, netbooks, small digital cameras, handheld game consoles, wristwatches and alarm clocks).  It’s quite easy to read on an iPhone, whether it’s a book, short story, magazine article or news item.

There is also talk that the United States Postal Service is failing.  I can understand why, because only 1 piece of mail in 15 is something I actual need, and even that piece could be eliminated by electronic billing.  Nearly everything I get in my mailbox goes right into the recycling bin.  This is especially a shame for all those fancy full-color catalogs, resources terribly wasted because I don’t even flip through their pages.

The era of paper might be nearing its end.  The more effort I put into recycling the more I realize that most paper trees die in vain, and their lives would be better spent absorbing carbon dioxide.  I will agonize over all the people in paper related industries who will lose their jobs, but the history of the world is change, and nothing stays the same.

If I lived until 2042, to become 91 like my mother and grandmother, I might see the end of newspapers, magazines and books.  I’ll probably see the passing of paper photographs, 8-16-35-70mm film formats, LPs, CDs, DVDs, BDs and any other form of audio-visual physical storage.  Stranger still, I might see the end of libraries and bookstores.  Everything will be digital, and the net will be a universal library.  Newsstands are already disappearing fast.  Bookstore business is still growing, but if the Kindle and its kin catch on, that will change too.  And libraries aren’t what they used to be.

The age of wasting natural resources should end in our lifetimes, either from changing our lifestyles to avoid the worst of global warming, or by adapting to the new environments that global warming brings into existence.  It is impossible to know the future.  It is impossible to know what black swan changes are in store for us.  The folks of 1881 could not picture 1916 much less 1951 and 2009 is beyond anything anyone could imagine from the 19th century, so I can’t really predict 2019 or 2042.

However, when was the last time you put a coin in a pay phone or a letter in a letter box?  How many other things have you stopped doing in recent years that you haven’t even notice you stopped doing?  It’s easy to be amazed by new inventions, but will we even notice when the weight of all that paper is gone?

JWH – 11/24/9

Kindle DX versus Netbook as Textbook

The holy grail of ebook visionaries is the electronic textbook.  Textbooks are huge, heavy and expensive and some poor school kids carry more weight on their backs than soldiers on a march.  It’s as common to see backpack humps on college kids backs as seeing cell phones in their hands.  Ebook promoters see dollar signs whenever they spot one of those humpback students lugging around all that printed matter.

And those ebook promoters are right.  Why carry forty pounds of paper when you can carry 1 pound of electronics?  But is the Kindle DX the answer?  I don’t think so.  First, let me give you a little story.  Years ago, before audio books were even common on cassette tape, I took a two semester Shakespeare course.  We covered almost 20 plays, each tested with a very detailed 10 question quiz.  I remember how I faithfully read and studied the first play and was shocked when I only got six of the ten questions.  The professor had a pattern.  Half of the questions could be easily answered with a fair reading of the play.  One question was always about a very obscure detail that kept most people from getting a perfect 10, and the other four questions divided the class between those who really got into the play and those who didn’t.

I realized a quick reading the night before class wasn’t going to cut it, so I went to the library and got each play on LP.  They came in boxed sets of 3-4 discs.  The records were old and scratchy, but usable.  This was in the early 1980s.  I’d play the records while reading the play – it took hours.  After that I always got perfect 10s on those quizzes.  Now my magic retention rate only worked if I faithfully followed the words on the page while listening to the same words spoken.  Reading or listening by itself didn’t work.  Other than these two Shakespeare courses I never used this learning technique again in school.

However, when I started using my ears as my main sensory input for reading back in 2002, I started playing around, experimenting with each form of input.  I paid attention to what I noticed when just reading with my eyes.  Then I paid attention to what I noticed, just from listening with my ears.   I would then read something I had just listened to, or vice versa.  Each time I’d found details I had missed with the opposite method.  I discovered what the eyes learned was different from what the ears remembered.

One book I did this experiment on was Emma by Jane Austen, a book I was reading for a book club.  I listened for an hour.  Then I reread that hour with my eyes.  Listening was great for getting a sense of character and dramatic action, but it was poor on retaining words.  Austen immediately introduced too many characters – that made the story confusing.   Each character live in a house with a name, often set in a different village, with another name to remember, so I was overwhelmed by people and place names.  Seeing all those names in print helped clear up many issues. 

Again, I concluded that to study a piece of writing for academic purposes, I needed to see it with my eyes if I wanted to memorize words and spellings.  However, by listening, I experienced the nuances of conflict, characterization and plot better.  Hearing stories helped me to to imagine 3D action and settings.  I saw color and details better when I heard the words rather than read them. 

Listening, which is far slower than reading, forced me to concentrate on the subject, and that was especially reinforced when I watched the words while also listening to them.  Seeing a word and hearing it made me think about it’s pronunciation and spelling more than when I just read it with my eyes.  But listening alone is terrible for learning spelling.  There are many books I’ve only heard that I have no idea how to spell the character’s names. 

I think these observations are key to the success of future etextbooks.  Strangely enough, the Kindle now offers to read books to their owners, but they also allow Kindle users to play MP3 or Audible.com audio books while reading, although I think few people take advantage of this feature.  I sold my Kindle 1.0 to my friend who prefers to read with her eyes and loves to travel, but I do have the Kindle reader software on my iPod touch and do some reading with it.  However, iPods can’t multitask, so I have to play the audio book on my Zune and read it on the iPod touch.

From this one anecdote you might surmise that the Kindle DX will make a great etextbook, but I’m not so sure.  I found the e-ink technology clumsy for random reading, which is often what people do when they study.  Also, kids studying will be taking notes for writing papers or passing tests, so I think the future of etextbooks will be on netbooks, and those little devices are great at multitasking, allow reading and note taking and even cutting and pasting of quotes.

To really memorize details for a studied subject, I think you need to see it, hear it, and then write about it.  iPhones and Kindles don’t help here.  When I write this blog I keep a browser window open, with tabs to Google, Wikipedia and OneLook (a dictionary gateway site).

The computer literacy movement of the 1980s promised so much but delivered so damn little.  I’ve always wondered why programmers couldn’t write programs that taught math.  Kids will play video games for hours, games that mesmerize them into deep rapt attention, tricking them into learning a myriad of details from game play.  Teaching mathematics via interactive computer animation should be a no brainer, but most software that attempted the job came up with dull drills and tedious flash cards.  That doesn’t mean the concept of computer aided learning is a bust.  Anyone who has played with Mathematica should shout they’ve seen the light.

What’s needed is a synthesis of many learning techniques and technologies.  First, I think etextbooks won’t be ebooks.  That’s way too lame.  Etextbooks should combine video lectures, film clips, audio, computer CGI, and photos to go with old fashion black on white text, plus add tests, quizzes, puzzles, word problems, virtual worlds, games and any other interactive method to get kids to practice math.

If I had the money and resources to create etextbook on mathematics I would build my course around the history of math.  I’d take it from anthropological ancient history to theoretical here and now.  But I’d build it as a suite of components, usable on different platforms in different study environments.  So if the user only wanted voice, in iPod mode, they could spin through the centuries to find MP3 podcasts about the history of math.  If they were in a mood to play with their Nintendo DS, they could load up a mathematical game, or install a challenging game app on their iPhone.  If they were in the mood for a documentary, I’d let them stream video to their television sets.  Hell, I’d even offer to print puzzles for when they have to sit on the pot.

I’d also find some way to create a scoring system, especially one that could be tied to a Elo type rating system, like they use in chess, so students would feel challenged to compete.  It would be great if the American Mathematical Society had a way to rank people’s knowledge of the various Mathematics Subject Classifications.   Kids love video games because they enjoy beating friends with a specialized skill, and they also love competing against a computer too.  Traditional schooling is so boring and passive. Etextbooks need the challenge of competition, but it would be so tired if all they did was offer time competitions on who could finish solving ten equations first.

What if a Civilization type game required various mathematical skills to play, so if a student wanted to build a pyramid in the game he’d need to know geometry, or if she wanted her little Sims to sail across an ocean, she’d have to use celestial navigation to advance the game.

In other words, if publishers are only going to take the text from their printed books and put it in an ebook, that’s not going to work.  Even if the Kindle had full color and resolution to match the printed page, so a Kindle book could contain all the photos and illustrations of the real textbook, I still don’t think it will be equal to using paper volumes.  Modern textbooks are gorgeous compared to what I remember I had to use as a kid.  If I had the choice between 5 books, weighing 40 pounds, and 1 Kindle weighing less than a single pound, I’m afraid I’d shoulder the burden, because real textbooks are far easier to use, and much more spectacular to look at.  I kid you not.  If you haven’t seen a text in forty years, go find a kid and look at theirs.

When I owned my Kindle and subscribed to Time magazine, I found it easiest to read from page one to page last, and endure the time it took to page past articles I didn’t want to read.  There were navigation links, but between flipping back to the table of contents and to an article to see if I wanted to read it, it was just easier to stay in linear mode of page, page, page, page….

Etextbooks will only be better if they offer a variety of ways to study.  Ultimately, I don’t think individual etextbooks will be the answer.  I think students will subscribe to an online textbook service, and pay $4.99-$19.99 a month per course, and access a myriad of multimedia features, paying about the same as buying a textbook for a one semester course.

The old way to going to college involved scheduling a class with a professor and studying a book together in a room with other students for a few months.  Online instruction means studying on your own with a professor you might never meet who shepherds unseen students through a system of requirements.  Wouldn’t you prefer a textbook service that gave you podcasts to listen to at the gym or grocery store or while doing the dishes, and video lectures to watch before bedtime, and online games to play against your classmates, and ebooks to read on your iPhone at break at work.  Local college professors may stop lecturing, and end up becoming educational gurus who help their students find their way to enlightenment in the subjects they paid to master.

The textbook of the future will have to be very flexible.  I don’t even go to school, but I study all the time.  I just finished the audio book The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg about cosmology of the early universe just after the big bang.  I’m about to read the hardback and listen to the audio book of The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, which will go deeper into many documentaries I’ve been watching lately on The Science Channel and PBS, but I also want something more systematic, so I’m going to get a DVD set or two from The Teaching Company.  Their great DVD courses would be fantastic to keep on a netbook.

The more I study cosmology and physics, the more I feel the need to study mathematics.  I wish I could find something like the RosettaStone language courses to help me.  I also wish I had something that tested and rated my knowledge.  I don’t feel the need to go back to college and major in physics, but if an astronomical association offered online testing, with amateur rankings, I might be tempted by their challenge.  Our K-12 upbringing made most of us to hate learning, mainly because they made gaining knowledge all about passing crappy tests.  Video games are a form of test taking, a fun kind, that addict kids.

It’s a shame that most adults study new subjects like snacking on potato chips.  We constantly nibble on information but are never challenged to do anything with our empty data calories.  People will spend 60 hours a week playing online video games that require an amazing amount of study just to slay imaginary dragons or build pretend lives in Second Life.  Why not set up servers and let players build an historically accurate virtual Tudor England, so they could apply their hobby history scholarship to a challenge.  What if teachers told their students, “Your homework for this week is to create a virtual Mayflower, and show why the Puritans came to America.  Each of you must flesh out one historical character and show that person in twenty scenes from their life interacting with the characters your classmates create.  Please tell you’re parents they aren’t allowed to play this week.”

See why I think existing invention of the textbook shouldn’t be converted into a gadget that only displays electronic words and images on an electronic page because it’s lighter than a bulky book?  Modern textbooks are already bursting their bindings trying to become multimedia experiences.  E-ink would be a huge step backwards.  Go find a 2009 textbook, and flip through it.  What I’m saying will be obvious.  It will also be obvious that the weight of all the knowledge within that tome won’t be easily consumed by your darling rug rat.  Today’s kids chow down on HD video and 1080p Xbox games.  The Sirens of virtual worlds call to kids and the printed black letter on white paper, or gray e-ink, just won’t charm them.

JWH – 7/3/9   

Going Paperless 7 – Junk Mail

It’s been over a year since I started on the paperless path and my life is still full of paper.  I’ve spent this Sunday shredding files with personal information.  When I started this project I was mostly concerned with the tons of magazines I was getting in the mail each month.  Now my mailbox is mostly magazine free, but my paper recycling bucket has plenty of paper in it every week.  After canceling magazines I loved, my mailbox is still full of crap that I never wanted.

Since we bought the house my wife grew up in, we get mail for her dead parents, and after my mom died, I had all her mail forwarded here, and between our five names we get piles of unwanted mail.  Hell, we got a letter the other day for a man who lived in the house before my wife’s folks bought it in 1961.  We also get mail for my wife’s two brothers and several of their children.  And we get mail for two very special people: occupant and resident.

I’ve tried to write some of the regular senders and inform them about the deceased, but many types of mail we get are due to our names being on endless lists.  Lists that are sold from one marketing company to another.  It’s harder to fight junk mail marketing than unsolicited phone calls because there is no official federal do not mail registry, like the National Do Not Call Registry.  (There is a campaign, Do Not Mail, that’s collecting signatures for a petition for the federal government to create a Do Not Mail service like the National Do Not Call Registry.)

The Direct Marketing Association does offer DMAchoice.org.  Of course, these are the people trying to help businesses sell you stuff, but they claim they want to develop good relations between customers and sellers, so you can register for what you don’t want or what you do.  However, many marketing companies do not belong to the DMA.

I have found a number of other web sites with good advice on how to reduce the flow of junk mail:

There are pay services that will do some of this work for you, but I couldn’t find enough information about them to risk hiring them.  All these advice sites require work, and some of the advice requires contacting agencies and giving them your SSN.  I’m still mentally debating that.

I have joined DMAchoice.org but it’s not simple to use like the National Do Not Call Registry, but it is helpful.  DMAchoice divides junk mail into four categories:  Credit Offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers.  This service helps you to add or remove your address from hundred of member companies mailing lists, or it helps get you onto lists that warns companies not to market to you at all.  But it’s not perfect.  Any company that you buy from, or subscribe to, will continue to send sales offers to you.  For example, I buy from L. L. Bean, and I get catalogs all the time in the mail, and emails about specials.  And my wife would probably get mad at me if I canceled the J. C. Penny’s sale catalogs.  DMAchoice.org expects you to take notes on what you get in the mail and work carefully to thin things out.  Also, DMAchoice.org has a service to stop junk mail to deceased recipients.

I get a lot less mail than I did a year ago.  Because I quit subscribing to magazines, I get far fewer offers in the mail.  I’ve even had a rare day of getting no mail whatsoever, and on many days my red Netflix envelope is the only thing in the box.  I bet my mailman loves me, if he’s not worried about losing his job.  If only I could only convince him not to deliver those weekly bundle of local ads.

Going paperless takes work, a lot of work.  Maybe a year from now I’ll have the junk mail under control.  Not only will that save trees, keep carbon out of the atmosphere, but it will save me time.  I’ve already saved a lot of time by paying bills automatically through bank drafts, so most of the mail I do process now is junk mail.  However, I still get lots of printouts from Blue Cross Blue Shield after each doctor’s visit, and those monthly statements from my banks.  And some companies that I pay by bank draft want to send me their statements anyway, which is a total waste.

My paper recycle bin will always have paper in it because of product packaging, but the amount I put out by the curb gets smaller over time.  In today’s society where most people have a computer, there’s little reason to deal with the printed word.  Email has replaced the letter, and now the web is replacing catalog shopping.  I read far more news stories on the web than I do in magazines and newspapers.  Instead of printing out copies of things I want to save, I just make a .pdf and file it away.  Eventually, I think most of the communications we get in our mailbox can be processed digitally, including any junk mail that we might actually want.

JWH – 3/29/9

We Need A Number

Go do a Google search on this phrase – “Target Atmospheric CO2” – and include the quotation marks, and you will find 2,400 links.  The links point to essays discussing a scientific paper by James Hansen and other scientists called “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”  The gist of the story:  The likely safe high range for CO2 in the atmosphere is 350ppm, and we’re beyond that at 385ppm.  Hansen is the NASA scientist that first alerted Congress to the global warming problem back in 1988.  Randomly read some of those essays reacting to the paper and you’ll save me the time paraphrasing it.  The paper itself is perfectly readable, if you’re patient, but it’s bumpy with scientific speak, so it might be easier to read the commentaries.

Many of the writers act like 350 is the magic number we need, and in some ways that’s true.  It gives humanity a very specific goal.  It tells everyone that if we want weather like the nice weather we grew up with, then everybody needs to go on a carbon diet and get the atmospheric CO2 below 350 again.  However, that does not convey the sacrifice needed to achieve the goal.

I think we need another number.  Scientists need to decide what is the fair share target number we all need to stay under personally to get the job done.  Recycling paper and buying compact florescent lights are not going to do the trick.  I think until we have a personal number to target, along with proper labeling on everything we buy, people won’t understand how much CO2 they need to cut out of their lives.

How much sacrifice do we need to make?  If the nations of the world had a crash program to switch to 100% solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear and other sources of clean energy, would that solve the problem?  Would that be one way to solve the problem without asking individuals to think about the details?  Or should governments just kill off some of the most polluting industries?  Do we need to give up the beef industry?  Or the paper industry?  Or the airline industry?  Or all of them plus more?  Or would it be better to ask the citizens themselves to take on their own share of global warming responsibility and let them make their own decisions on how to clean up their share of personal waste?

If we had a number to measure our personal use against, we could all decide the sacrifices we’d like to make.  Some people might be willing to dry their clothes on the line outside for a year to budget flying to New York City for a vacation.  Other people might buy high tech cars that put little CO2 in the atmosphere so they can enjoy living in a larger house.  Others might choose to walk to work so eating steaks wouldn’t break their personal greenhouse gas consumption budget.

Many people have suggested having a carbon tax to help fund a Manhattan style project to convert to clean energy power plants.  This would discourage waste and finance change.  Having a tax would be one way to quantify for the public their duty to humanity.  It could also simplify the decisions people make.  If gasoline with a carbon tax was $12 a gallon, then you’d think long and hard about wasting it.  If the price of electricity from coal went to 4x with a carbon tax, it would give utility companies income to build new plants and customers incentives to make their houses energy efficient.

This would be the easy route.  What if in the next ten years we screwed around and didn’t do anything and it became frighteningly obvious we need to do something drastic?   Would we make bigger sacrifices then?  What if we had to outlaw the gasoline powered car?  Or outlaw airplanes?  Or ration electricity?

There are thousands and thousands of things we can do now by freely making the choices ourselves before the governments of the world have to get heavy.  If we knew what our carbon allotment was, it would be easier to make those choices.

Take for instance paper.  I have no idea how much paper contributes to the problem of global warming, but I have seen one number that says that junk mail adds 114 billion pounds of CO2 annually.  My reaction is to give up paper completely.  I’m phasing out my magazine and newspaper subscriptions, I’m doing my best to never print computer documents, I’m working to reduce junk mail, and I’m finding ways to shop for products with less packaging.

If everyone thought this way, paper magazines would disappear from society and everyone would read electronic periodicals.  Is this good or bad?  That’s a lot of jobs lost.  Potentially, it could mean a lot of businesses would go under.  I’d hate to see that, but on the other hand, paper really isn’t needed in our computer networked society.  My local newspaper just started offering a weekly electronic edition that looks just like the print edition, but costs less than the Sunday only paper subscription.  I’m moving to a paperless lifestyle, but even though it’s logical to me, is it what everyone else should be doing too?

I draw the line at magazines and newspapers, but feel that books are worth their environmental costs because we preserve them and consider newspapers and mags disposable.  What if that’s wrong.  What if there’s a way to have environmental safe magazines?  Unless scientists tell us the values associated with all our consumption we won’t know how to make enlightened decisions.  If a National Geographic subscription form came with a number – 24 – for 24 pounds of CO2 added to the atmosphere per 1 year subscription then that would be a big step in understanding the problem.

However, unless I know my allotment number, say 1,000 pounds per year, I wouldn’t be able to practically use the 24 figure I got from National Geographic.  So Mr. Hansen, it you and your science buddies would be so kind, give us another number.  350 is cool for the world to know, but we all need another number, a number that would tell us how to live by so all 7 billion people riding on spaceship Earth pulls that 385ppm figure down to 350ppm.  That number is the maximum amount in pounds of greenhouse gases we can each safely add to the atmosphere in a year.

President Elect Obama, you could help with this too.  Instead of offering another general economic incentive package, offer us tax breaks on buying specific clean energy products and services.  That would be another way to quantify a solution.  Tax what’s bad for the environment, and subsidized what’s good.  Get the U.S. to do more than it’s fair share to get the world below that 350ppm number.  We owe the rest of the world.

JWH 11-9-8

Going Paperless 6 – Zinio

I started this series about Going Paperless back in February and I’m slowly progressing towards my goal.  My initial plan was to give up paper editions of newspapers and magazines, and in theory replace them with editions for the Kindle or on audio for my iPod, but Zinio electronic publishing was also recommended to me, and that turned out to be third path to going without paper.  I haven’t renewed any of my paper magazines yet, and I’m still reading paper editions because many subs haven’t expired.  As they expire I’ve got to find a paperless solution, thus giving me the incentive to subscribe to Zinio editions.

Even though I haven’t yet subscribed to a magazine through Zinio, I have gotten a number of free subs and issues.  Today I discovered a major change in how Zinio delivers magazines that makes a vast improvement over their old solution.  The previous method centered around a software reader installed on your machine, and magazines were saved on your hard drive, in the “library” as the program calls it.  The new method is entirely web based, and what’s amazing, the online reader is better than the fat client!  Web software programs are making quantum leaps in quality these days – it’s just mind blowing compared to just two years ago.

One thing I hated about the old reader was how it dealt with photographs.  Photographs didn’t handle magnification like text.  Text got bigger and stayed sharp, but magnified photos just got pixilated and jaggy.  If you want to see a photo in a real magazine better you hold it up closer to your face and you can see more details.  Now, with the online version, you can magnify the photo almost like you have Photoshop.  Sure images will eventually deteriorate, but it’s good for three levels of blow-up.  This is great for reading magazines like Popular Photography.

And there’s more!  The online version is quicker and easier to scoot around within a page.  Onscreen reading is greatly improved.  The online program tries to be intuitive and guess what you want, so it has fewer controls.  It takes a little getting used to, but I attuned to it fast.  In full screen one click magnifies to 200%, another full click de-magnifies back to 100%.  At 200% a hold-down click allows you to grab the page and slide it around.  There’s a -/+ magnifier icon for 100% 200% 400% and 800% magnifications, so only mouse clicking is needed for quick reading and page turning, saving you trips to the top menu.  On my 22″ LCD monitor I can read the magazine in full two-page view with no scrolling, but it’s easy and quick to magnified and read in large print.

Zinio isn’t perfect yet.  You have to read at the computer, but net reading has gotten me used to that.  What I’ve always wanted is a way to build a personal periodicals library that also had a search feature.  Now this would work in two ways.  I want full-text word search on all the magazines I own in my digital library.  At the next level I’d want a full-text word search for all magazines published and be offered a chance to buy a magazine with an article I needed.

I like having an online library.  Not only do I not have to save my paper copies, but I don’t even have to clutter up my computer with digital copies.  Boy, I wish I had my years of back issues of Sky & Telescope and Astronomy Magazine stored away in the Zinio library – I’d gain enough shelf-space for a hundred books.

Since I started my going paperless quest I’ve learned some limitations about being perfectly paperless.  Magazines like F&SF and other short story periodicals are something I’m going to read in a chair, and they are fine to get on the Kindle.  I didn’t like Time on the Kindle.  Magazines that I want to save like National Geographic or Sky & Telescope might justify their tree killing ways if I do keep them for years.  I feel books are worth their ecological paper costs if we keep them for decades or centuries, and the same would be true for magazines we want to preserve.  And since I want to sell a story to F&SF someday, I want to subscribe to the paper copy, just in case I ever get a story printed.  I can read most of my favorite magazines online with no trouble.  Something like Popular Science which has very busy layout, would be easier to read as a Zinio edition.

Zinio still doesn’t offer all the magazines I subscribe to, nor is the pricing on most journals what I think electronic editions should cost.  If the publisher can skip printing, postage and distribution costs, then the electronic subscription should be significantly cheaper than buying paper, and in most cases it’s not.  12 issues of Popular Mechanics for $7.99 is A-OK.  12 issues of PC World for $19.97 means I read the free web version.  And I’m not even offered magazines like Scientific American, Discover, Seed, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and most of my regular reading.

Strangely enough, I can find many of my favorite magazines online offering their content for free – this makes me wonder if Zinio might be undersold by free web content.  For companies like Zinio to succeed will require a new way of thinking about how magazines are priced. 

I figure the NetFlix or Rhapsody Music model of pricing would be a better system.  I pay $10 a month to each of those services and have unlimited access to their entire libraries.  Rhapsody Music provides subscription music to nearly everything that’s for sale on CD for one monthly fee and I can listen all day long.  NetFlix will send me one movie at a time from their vast library or let me watch a growing list of films on my computer any time for their monthly fee.  Zinio, and other companies should offer a similar service for online magazines.

Some of my magazines have expired like The New Yorker, PC Magazine, PC World and Maximum PC, Time and Linux Journal.  I don’t know if I should say this, but free web content has filled the need completely over these paper editions.  I’m tempted to get The New Yorker on Audible.com, but I don’t miss the others.

My subscription is about to end for Entertainment Weekly, a zine my wife and I both read and enjoy.  Susie is not on the path to paperless living, and I don’t want to renew.  Much of EW’s content is online, but reading their website is like running a gauntlet of ads, and EW paginates the hell out of their stories forcing you to see page after pages of the same crappy ads.  And their RSS feeds aren’t much help either.  The paper copy is the easiest of their distribution methods to read.  If it was available for a reasonable price, Entertainment Weekly would be perfect to get on Zinio.  Because it’s not on Zinio and I want to stick to my paperless philosophy, it means I have to give up reading EW.

Jim

Too Many Paper Towels

I’ve become a semi-bachelor this year when my wife had to take a job out of town.  Because of this new status I have to do my own shopping, and I’ve always hated shopping.  When we first got married over thirty years ago, I volunteered to do the laundry if Susie would do all the shopping.  Learning to shop properly is hard to do, as I’ve discovered late in life.  And with the current climate of shopping to save money while also being green, I feel like I need to buy subscription to Money Magazine, Consumer Reports and The Economist to effectively make a foray to the grocery story.

Susie always bought large bundles of paper towels that we had to squirrel away in all our closets that would take years to use.  Well, the last batch ran out this past week, and since we have a couple of cats that love to groom and puke, paper towels are a necessity.  Of course this could be a green issue.  I could wipe up my feline family member’s hairball regurgitation with a rag that I could wash out, but that’s time consuming and messy, so I take the easy paper route of buying towels.

When I got to the store and the isle with the paper towels I made a troubling discovering – there are dozens of choices.  I didn’t remember which brand Susie bought.  I stood staring at the selection for several minutes not knowing what to do.  I considered asking one of the many women passing by but worried they might have considered my genuine ignorance as feigned male stupidity for a pick up line.  There were so many brands, so many styles, so many patterns, so many bundle choices, and I figured I’d needed a laptop and a spreadsheet to calculate which was the cheapest if I figured for length of roll, number of sheets, number of plies, and number of rolls in a bundle.

And even more confusing was trying to figure out quality.  Some looked pretty cheap and were cheap, and others looked cheap and were not.  And none of them claimed to be good for barf removal from rugs.  I stood there totally befuddled, not knowing what to do when I saw the name “Brawny.”  Hey, I remembered that from the TV, and it sounded manly, and I’m a man, so I figured that was a sign from God.  I bought one roll, thinking I’d give ole Brawny the vomit patrol test.  When my wife got home this weekend, all she said was, “I like the kind that have the half-sheet tears.”  Well, they do clean up after Nick and Nora just fine.

The question now is did I get a good buy?  I have no idea.  I don’t know how much I paid for that Brawny roll.  In my panic to select I didn’t look.   Just now, I jumped on Google and started studying the problem.  First off, I found that there are paper towels promoted as being green because they are made from recycled paper and less chemical processing.  And there’s toilet tissue also made from recycled paper.  This sounds like a no-brainer, so the next time I buy I’m going to look for recycled paper products, but I don’t remember seeing that at my store.  GreenDealsDaily also recommended 100% biodegradable sponges, but that sounded nasty when I imagined how all those cat crunchies expanded with digestive juices would clog up its pores.

There’s lots of confusing information on Google, but after looking at several links, I found Paper Towels and Napkins vs. Cloth.  Melissa Breyer rates various types of cleanup solutions by their friendliness to the Earth.  I’m sold on recycled paper products, but she also makes a good case for cloth napkins and towels

If I go with cloth I’ll have to wash them, but I won’t have to shop for paper towels anymore – a relief that saves money.  I wonder if I can live without them?  Since I hate shopping, this decides the issue for me, and it gets me out of the math of figuring out which paper towels are the best buy.  However, if I spot some of those green recycled paper towels I might buy them to keep for fast cleanups like when I hear the lovely call of a retching cat when I’m trying to run out the door to work.

Jim

Rethinking the Kindle

Tonight I was reading on my Kindle and I decided I’m not completely happy with it.  I love reading on the Kindle, that is, seeing the large print, reading screen by screen with a press of a button, and having a narrow line width to scan with my eyes.  What I don’t like about the Kindle is the Home directory.  I also discovered I no longer like reading Time magazine on the Kindle, although this might not be completely the fault of the Kindle.

For my personal use and taste, I’ve decided I like the Kindle best for reading a single book at a time.  The Kindle is great for reading on a book you’re hooked on and you’re ready to sit and do some serious reading.  I can read screen after screen with little eyestrain.  The Kindle is a comfortable magnifying glass.  Whenever I used to try to reading normal books and hold a magnifier it was never comfortable.  For me the Kindle has become a tool to make reading easier on the eyes.

I don’t like managing books on the Kindle.  The computer makes for a much better librarian.  I wished the Home page only had unread books on it, and I could hide all my read books in another directory.  Really all I want is to turn on my Kindle and start reading where I left off, so I’m not even sure I wouldn’t be happy leaving my library of books on my computer or on Amazon.

The whole thing about carrying 2,000 books around in one little device isn’t as interesting in practice as it was in theory.  In other words, I like the Kindle as a book replacement, but not as a library replacement.  The Kindle’s software and hardware interfaces are clunky when it involves more than reading.  PREV PAGE and NEXT PAGE are perfect concepts for reading – all those other buttons, not so much.

I could handle a much simpler Kindle, but I don’t know if my tastes would make other Kindle users happy.  Amazon should sell two kinds of Kindles – a streamline reader with few buttons, no broadband connection, and have it managed from a computer, for about $100, and then the more expensive Kindle with all the bells and whistles for $399.  I would be happy with three buttons: an On/Off switch, and a Next and Previous page buttons, along with a USB port.  Yeah, and it would need some kind of home button with a trackpad or other cursor selector device – but ultimately I’d prefer a touch screen.  I wondering if something like the iPod player control would work with ebook navigation. 

I’d like this simple Kindle to be super hardened so I wouldn’t be afraid of taking it places, include the bathtub or beach.

My 4gb iPod Nano can hold many unabridged audio books but if I put more than a few on it then it becomes a pain to find things.  My iPod and Kindle just need room for 1-3 books – at least that’s how I feel.  I’m trying to simplify my life.  My iPod Nano is the perfect tool for listening to audio books.  The Kindle is still too swiss-army knifey to make me happy.

I love that the Kindle is Green and I can go paperless, but I’ve decided that general magazines aren’t suited for it.  My fiction magazines are okay, but modern magazines have too much content, with lots of little sidebars and snippets of facts mixed in with the articles.  That busy layout doesn’t translate well to a pure reading layout of the Kindle.

Jim

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