If you love your books, that phone may be your future

random person with phone
So what’s next? Reading books on your phone or something?

While bemoaning the fact printed books are going the way of the record album and landline telephones, I’ve come to like the convenience of digital books. You can read them just about anywhere.

Like on your phone.

Smartphones are the big thing now. They’ve got more processing power than that desktop computer you had 10 years ago, and it’s amazing all the things they can do. Including reading your books.

Well, kinda sorta.

The one-and-a-half big entities in the ebook world, Kindle and Nook (since that one’s dying it only accounts for half a company), have apps you can load onto your smartphone. So rather than putting your entire library on something that’s not much larger than a single paperback, you can carry thee books on your telephone. Shove it in your pocket or clip it onto your belt, no backpack, no hands, just whip it out when you want to read something.

Margaret Atwood, an accomplished novelist, is heavily involved with a Web site and app for the growing legion of phone readers. It’s called Wattpad, and you can download freebies from authors seeking a little exposure. From what I see most of the writers are young. Genres like YA (Young Adult) fiction and fantasy/horror/gothic novels with the requisite number of vampires and/or zombies predominate here. But it seems the younger folks prefer to read on the phone. It helps if you have young eyeballs.

Like it or not, Atwood’s site is a real bellwether in the publishing industry. That phone is your future.


The old man and the e-reader

Futuristic or not, you can’t beat the convenience of reading from your phone. Unless you’re 55. That’s when things get a little goofy.

There’s just not a whole bunch of space on a 4+-inch smartphone screen. There isn’t. To keep things at a size that I can still comfortably read with or without my old-man bifocals, my screen holds 20 lines of about four or five words each. Do the math. That’s about 80 to 100 words per screen. The standard paperback book has about 30 lines of nine or 10 words each — around 270 to 300 words. That’s a lot of page flipping on your phone.

Plus when you go to anything large enough for me to read, my phone-based Kindle renders its pages poorly. I’m stuck with justified margins, and automatic hyphenation doesn’t exist. Therefore I’ll have some lines where the words are jammed fairly tight, and other lines where the words have lots of space between them. Maybe it’s just because I’m a print geek, but I find this oddball spacing unattractive, even disconcerting. A quad-left format looks much better, but the Kindle phone app won’t let me go there.

Now if my eyesight gets worse than it is now I can bump the type size from 10-point to 12 or 18. Cuts down the number of lines, cuts down the words per line, and the onscreen page gets real ugly in a hurry.

I had a Nook some time ago. It was given to me by a friend (an avid reader; the kind who has three books going at a time) when he upgraded his equipment. I’m also an avid reader (three books going at a time), and I think between two high-mileage owners and one tragic accident the Nook finally gave up the ghost. I loved it, though. The e-ink display is easy to read, and it doesn’t matter if the sun is shining directly overhead. I can still read it. With a clip-on lamp I can read in the back of a darkened van, like I did on a road trip to North Carolina.


Kindle or Nook? Yes …

But now my go-to reader is my phone. Unlike a proprietary e-reader, I’m not chained to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I can comparison shop, get the best price, download my book and read it. The only thing I can’t really read on my phone is the older-style .pdf file because, well, the screen isn’t big enough.

To get geeky for a minute, Kindle uses a proprietary .mobi format. Nook uses the more universal .epub format. Even if you hand-loaded Kindle titles into your Nook, you’re out of luck. Ditto if the book has copy protection limiting it to just the device you loaded the book on. There is software that handles both .mobi and .epub formats (I have one, FBReader on my phone), but I’m straight outta luck if I wish to read a copy-protected book with that app.

Further mixing up the equation, many self-published authors stick with Amazon (read: Kindle) for their work. There’s a good reason for this. If you give Amazon exclusive rights to your ebook your royalty is 70 percent of the retail price. If you want to spread the love among several outlets, your royalty drops to 35 percent. Now that’s still a lot better than the approximately 10 percent you get if you go through a big publishing house (before your agent gets his 15 percent cut), but it’s still a significant difference. Amazon is the big gorilla in publishing, and the sales through Barnes & Noble and others aren’t enough to justify the reduced royalty.

(Full disclosure: All of my ebooks are available only through Amazon/Kindle, for the reason noted.)

About the only other drawback I can see with the old e-ink reader is that the screen’s not touch sensitive. Most of the time that’s not a problem, but if you like to highlight or annotate text (raises hand) the process couldn’t be any more unintuitive if they tried to make it that way. It’s ridiculously involved and easy to screw up.

Hint to hardware developers everywhere: Howzabout an e-ink reader that can handle both Kindle and Nook? With smoother highlighting? I’ll be glad to beta-test it for you.


E-readers and pads and phones, oh my!

Reckon I could get an Android pad (those Nexus 7’s sure look good to me) or I can get all brand-name-conscious and pick up an iPad, but the only real difference is the screen size.

And convenience. Did I mention convenience yet?

And the knowledge that ol’ Stonefingers can drop the phone a couple of times before it craps out. Just try that with a Nexus 7 or iPad. (C’mon, I dare you!)

Forget about reading from a phone or ‘pad before you go to bed, though. Since the phone emits its own light, it’ll allegedly do a number on your sleep cycles. That’s why your so-called sleep experts advocate shutting off all computers and turning off some lights a couple of hours before you go to bed. Besides, taking the phone to bed is just plain weird.

The older Kindle and Nook e-ink readers were great for that. Just attach that reading lamp to the unit (available as an accessory and well worth it), and you can read until you fall asleep. It’s just like reading a real book.

Whatever you do, though, don’t roll on your e-reader during the night or you’ll crack the screen. I state this with authority.


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‘Staring at the phone’ takes on new meaning

line drawing of smartphone
My smartphone looks almost like this now.

My smartphone croaked yesterday.

I know. What am I gonna do, right?

For one who was such a late adopter into the mobile scene, I’ve sure made up for lost time. I do just about everything with that phone:

  • Check my news.
  • Keep in touch with clients.
  • Read my email.
  • Post weird thoughts on Twitter.
  • Read ebooks.
  • Take pictures.
  • Make voice recordings.
  • Maintain my daily calendars.
  • Listen to music.
  • Handle my finances.
  • Even post to my blogs from the phone.

Oh, yes. I’ll sometimes make phone calls. But that’s the least important function. As far as voice calls go, that smartphone isn’t worth a lick.

But I’m scrambling.

Voice calls and text are no problem. I have another so-called “feature phone” (translation: dumbphone) kicking around, and it works very well. I can do some cool things like checking bank balances with a text. But I can’t really go online and do really heavy stuff with it.

How people use their phones

I read in SocialTimes that the average adult American uses his smartphone 58 minutes a day. The only real surprise is that you’d think it’s much more than that. But these numbers may also include those who don’t even have a smartphone, so there’s that. But still, I’m obviously not your typical American adult.

What’s interesting is the usage according to SocialTimes:

  • Using social networks: Nine minutes.
  • Sending and receiving text messages: 12 minutes.
  • Browsing the Web: Eight minutes
  • Sending and reading email: Five minutes.
  • Playing games: A tick under five minutes.
  • Actually talking on the phone: 15 minutes.

IPhone users spend a lot more time on smartphones than Android users, and will text more than the average. But they’ll talk less; I understand the quality of the phone might have something to do with that.

I’ve never timed my smartphone usage and never wanted to because I’m afraid of seeing the results. But my Web browsing and email are considerably higher than the average. I’m probably solid average with text messaging and social media — in my case it’s Twitter and Linkedin. Phone calls? Not so much; I’ve made nine phone calls in the last 30 days. Some were long; a couple of hour-long teleconferences, but that’s about all.

But reading the news is where I blow up the scale. I love RSS news feeds, and of course they’re sent directly to my phone. That’s my biggest time sink.

But here’s the funny thing. I chose not to have an Internet connection at home because I get distracted easily, and can spend a lot of time chasing online squirrels when I should be working. But with a smartphone there’s really no difference except maybe I’m staring at a smaller screen. It’s still a distraction.

Because of that, I’m not in any hurry to replace my smartphone. I can still do some things on it, at least for a while before it completely bonks out.

OK, so I’m making some adjustments. I can still use my smartphone some, but I can’t leave it on all the time. Puts too much strain on the innards.

I can still read ebooks, take pictures and listen to music from the smartphone — all that cool online stuff, so it ain’t dead. But it’s more like that old Palm Pilot I wore out several years ago.

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Despite the rumors, the desktop computer refuses to die

I’ve been hearing the scuttlebutt for years. The desktop computer is supposed to be on the way out. Deader than the newspaper industry, deader than … well, it’s supposed to be dead.

Each new innovation seems to be toward throwing as much computing power as possible into smaller and smaller packages. The laptop of two years ago became the iPad last year, and it’s this year’s phone.

Or something.

My first computer had 512 kilobytes worth of RAM, a 42-megabyte hard drive, and a Hercules graphics card. The modem was one of those screamers; use it to dial your phone and you hear those unearthly sounds as it negotiated a connection. At 2,400 bytes per second, it took a few minutes to upload a text file the size of this blog entry.

Hate to say it, but that early-90s vintage Leading Edge computer didn’t have near the computing power of my phone now. My smartphone — and it’s a cheap workingman’s model — stores 200 megabytes of stuff on the internal memory and another 16 gigabytes on the micro SD card. I can send text files quickly and noiselessly, and check it. The display’s even got color.

I’ve always loved big, bulky desktop computers. The big freestanding towers with every kind of drive, the big display screen, those dust-collecting pieces of furniture we’ve used in offices and homes for so many years. Now we’re talking about a computer, baby.

Nothing quite beats the thrill of leaning back in the chair, feet up on the desk, the keyboard in my lap as I pound out a story or three. I could do that without looking at the screen or clicking the mouse until I’m done writing.

I still have my desktop, and though it’s in a dignified semiretirement, I’m not ready to give that up yet. In fact, I wouldn’t mind upgrading it.

For most of my home-office use I have a laptop with a ridiculously huge screen. I love it. It’s a couple of years old but blisteringly fast. It’s on a platform on my desk, about waist high when I stand up at the desk. It’s my main office rig.

I still have the Acer Aspire One netbook I bought several years ago, and it’s my weapon of choice when I’m writing on the road. Most of my Internet work is done with that machine, because it’s a breeze to carry in a backpack.

The phone has a slideout keyboard and a decent text editor, so that’s my extremely portable writing terminal. I’ve written blog posts on that and uploaded them right away, and it keeps my organizational tools.

The desktop? It’s got all my music on it, and it’s plugged into my stereo to give me the baddest jukebox in the world. But before I got the portable toys
the desktop was my workhorse. For a 15-year-old computer it does all right, if I’m careful to use lightweight software. About the only limitation it has is that it can’t handle any kind of high-speed Internet.

I must have me some Raspberry Pi.

Being a closet geek, I definitely have my eye on one of those Raspberry Pi computers. They’re little more than a mini-motherboard with flash memory, two USB ports and a place to put your power. As far as a case for that thing you’re on your own.

I want one.

Scratch that. I need one.

I’m also intrigued by those LiveScribes or whatever they are. A computer shoved into a pen. Scratch out a note and upload it via wifi into your Evernote account, now how cool is that?

It’s not nearly as cool as a Raspberry Pi. I’m getting me one.

But portability or not, I still love desktops.

Have you ever tried to replace a hard drive in your laptop? Or upgrade the memory? Shoot, you’d need to take it to the professionals. I swear it takes tweezers to do any kind of work on them.

That big desktop has the hard drive I transplanted from an older, long-dead computer. It took about five minutes and four screws, plug in two things, and I’m all set up. The desktop originally had 256 megabytes of RAM, but I snagged a couple of odd-sized memory cards from another old dead computer and bumped it up to 383M. Ain’t pretty, but it works.

On my older desktops I’ve replaced motherboards, CPU chips, heat sinks, CPU fans, power supplies, CD-ROM drives and … did I leave anything out?

But you get the point. Try doing any of those things with a laptop, and don’t even consider that with your Android phone.

It’s kind of like that Saturn an old girlfriend drove. It was a great car, fun to drive, but if you have to work on it you’re straight outta luck. When her alternator went out she suggested having it towed to the dealer to have a new one put in.

“Later with that,” I told her. “Let me have a look at it.”

Now, I’ve replaced alternators. It’s pretty easy. The part is right there where you can see it and wrap both hands around it. One bolt to hold it in place, a second bolt to anchor it and to adjust tension on the belt; that’s all there is to it. I once replaced my alternator in a dark parking lot in some neighborhood I can’t recommend, so you know this wasn’t my first rodeo.

So I popped open the hood of her Saturn to take a look, and everything went downhill from there.

Once I located the alternator, I think I managed to get my pinky around it. What’s up with that?

“Babe,” I told the girlfriend when I went back inside. “Give me the number to your dealer, would you please?”

The new portable computers are like that Saturn. Forget about working on them. Your favorite shade-tree computer technician can’t save your butt either.

Maybe the desktop is on its way out. People are more into small-form-factor computers these days. Something that takes up half your desk and can’t be shoved into a briefcase, well, people don’t want it.

Except experimenters. Except people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty a bit. People like me.



Writing for others: Why the ante is raised on cell phone theft

Think about it. Losing your cell phone doesn’t just mean losing your phone.

To all intents and purposes, you’ve also lost your wallet. And maybe even the keys to your financial kingdom.

As cell phones get smarter, the ante goes up even more.

Here are some ways of protecting your smartphone and the information it carries. Some of this stuff is common sense, while there are others you may mot have heard of. Like my own best cell phone protection costs almost nothing but saves it from all kind of problems.

Read the article in CreditDonkey: http://www.creditdonkey.com/cell-phone-theft.html