Sunday, July 21, 2013
Early observations on an experimental family e-library and e-bookclub using Kindles
Instapundit Glenn Reynolds writes today that his Kindle Paperwhite has "replaced [his] iPad as [his] favorite device for reading Kindle books":
The backlighting is the key. It’s light, battery lasts a long time (longer than the iPad), it charges quickly (faster than the iPad), and it’s very clear and easy to read in all kinds of light, from bright sunshine to a dark room. And of course, it’s much, much cheaper [than an iPad].
To all of which, I say: Ditto. I bought one of the first Paperwhites last fall, and I like mine so much that I made this product the basis for a family e-book club.
Specifically, I've given four Kindle Paperwhites, plus two older Kindle models I'd purchased in 2010 and 2011, to my four college-age kids and two of their best friends. All these devices are associated with my Amazon Prime account, and as the group's sponsor I encourage the members to make responsible e-book purchases through Amazon using their devices. Those purchases are of course billed to my Amazon account — like many parents, I've never regretted buying books for my kids! — and each purchase generates an emailed invoice to me, which helps me keep track of new additions to our collective e-library and its ongoing costs.
Here's how the Kindle system multiplies the already formidable convenience and economics of e-books for a family e-library, though:
Most of Amazon's Kindle books include licensing rights for multiple copies of e-books to be downloaded simultaneously to six different devices. (The precise number is set by the publisher of each book, I gather — I wonder if that was another one of Apple's ideas or something the publishers insisted upon on their own?) Not everyone in our group can simultaneously be reading the same book, then. But then again, six copies at any one time is quite a few: What home library has as many as six copies of on-dead-trees books available for simultaneous checkout? When you remove a copy from one Kindle or other e-reader device, it automatically frees up the license rights for another free and nearly-instant download on any of my account's devices, so even the six-copy limitation turns out to have a trivial and rare effect on us.
And although we have a total of seven Kindle devices among us, there are actually more e-readers than that associated with my account. With the Kindles' autosync via WiFi capability, I also use my smartphone and a free Amazon Kindle app as an additional e-reader — which lets me pick up with the same book I'm reading on my Paperwhite on my smartphone, in exactly the same spot, whenever I happen to find myself standing in line or eating out alone.
(I opted to forgo the more expensive Paperwhite models with the built-in 3G wireless capability to augment the built-in WiFi. However, my smartphone can sync using either 4G or WiFi, and my Paperwhite back home will sync to where I leave off reading on my phone too. We don't think our group members need, or would much use, wireless on our Paperwhites, but YMMV and for some of you the additional cost may be justified.)
As I'd hoped, many of the books that one of us buys are ending up being read by more than one of us — and sometimes (e.g., the Game of Thrones series) by all or almost all of us. And as I'd also hoped, we're trading book recommendations and discussing books more frequently. Our "family book club" doesn't have meetings or circulate memos; instead these shared books become evolving, continual topics of occasional conversation whenever any two or more of us happen to feel like chatting (in person, on Facebook, or wherever) about something we've just read.
For those who worry that this might be "cheating" or that they'll get sued under the DMCA: I haven't studied the fine print in Amazon's sales and licensing agreements, but I emailed Amazon's customer support folks about my family book club plan before buying the additional Paperwhites last December. They replied that Amazon is perfectly happy to sell on those terms, which include the understanding that I'm maintaining financial responsibility for the purchases made by the responsible young adults to whom I've entrusted what are, legally, still "my Kindles" and "my [licensing rights to Amazon-purchased] e-books."
Finally: my older daughter just returned from a month's volunteer work in Nepal, where her internet access was limited and infrequent. She reports that she got more use and more satisfaction out of her Kindle than from any other gadget she had with her.
So far, then, I've been very happy with this ongoing plan and the return I'm getting on my investment. These Kindles don't suck at all. If you decide to buy one, I recommend doing it through either Instapundit's site or your other favorite blogger who's an Amazon Associates participant. (I'm not any longer; Beldarblog is nonprofit for the additional freedom that buys me with respect to "fair use" copyright issues.)
Monday, August 27, 2012
Is either Apple or Samsung to be, or not to be?
I'd previously read or heard most of the notions that Rich Karlgaard advances in his Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Apple's Lawsuit Sent a Message to Google," but he's done a service nonetheless by polishing and distilling them nicely. As he puts it himself, this "techno-Shakespearian story is entertaining," and he makes a reasonable case that it's nevertheless "bad for the phone-buying public."
I agree completely with him that both from a business perspective and a legal one, it was strategic genius — albeit fairly obvious — for Apple to sue a foreign-based company, Samsung, rather than its real target, American-based Google, for pretty much all the reasons he explains.
I think his essay errs, though, in its tacit assumption that foreign companies like Samsung are always and forever going to be nothing more than proxies — pieces to be moved on the global chessboard by American technology leaders like Apple, Google, and yes, Microsoft. Of course, Samsung will appeal this latest American jury verdict, and it has a decent chance of winning on appeal. But that will take many months to play out. Does anyone doubt that in the meantime, Samsung — and many other similarly situated companies — will redouble their efforts, and probably more than redouble their budgets, to develop their own software prowess and capacities to augment their demonstrated manufacturing prowess and capacities?
And Mr. Karlgaard is absolutely right to note that there's a Shakespearian quality to this long-running and ongoing drama. But they're not re-running the same play every night, or even relying upon a static cast of players. Yes, in the 1980s it was already Apple versus Microsoft, and yes, those two still compete fiercely today. But there was no such thing as Google or Amazon then; they parachuted in seemingly from nowhere, but no one today can dispute that they've become formidable competitors who aren't shy about entering new lines of business. And quite a few dominating companies from the 1980s have been swallowed by others (as Google swallowed Motorola and HP swallowed Compaq), or have become competitively and technologically irrelevant (like Xerox and Kodak), or have simply disappeared altogether (like DEC and Wang).
In short, I think both plot and players are even more unpredictable and exciting than Mr. Karlgaard gives them credit for. So bring the house lights back down, and on to the next act!
Friday, August 17, 2012
John has a l ...
The title of this post is how far I got just now, in typing into a Google search engine search field, before Google's predictive text algorithm hazarded a ranked set of likely completions to my search terms. First among them:
John has a long mustache.
Friends and neighbors, since junior high school I've been able to type consistently in excess of 100 words per minute with generally good accuracy. Between the time my right ring finger could hop up from the "L" key to the "O" key while typing the word "long," much less than a fraction of one second could have passed. Yet that fractional second, even with internet lag, was long enough for Google: Not only was "John has a long mustache" indeed what I had been in the process of typing (keyboarding?), but Google's first offered search result was also spot-on correct, just exactly what I'd been wanting to look up: It was about the movie I'm watching right now, which contains a scene in which the sentence "John has a long mustache" is very important.
Aren't there many, many other quotes, constructions, passages in English-to-French dictionaries, random works of fiction, or other likely sources of sentences which begin with "John has a," plus just the letter "L"? My fragmentary search term could have turned out to be "John has a leopard," or "John has a luxurious apartment," or "John has a lackadaisical attitude toward his blogging." So how did Google's algorithms rule those possibilities out and rank the correct one (about John's long mustache) as the most likely fit? All I can imagine is that on previous occasions when this same film has been shown on television, some measurable number of other geeks have googled on that same phrase. Still: This mimicking — of human reasoning, of a very perceptive and well-read expert on countless subjects, of mind reading — is very, very uncanny. Indeed, it is slightly disturbing. But damned impressive!
I was seized by an eerie sensation: I remember telling friends to try Google out, back in 1999, during the first dozen months or so after it launched. "They have found some new wrinkles that you can't get with other search engines," I told them. "It seems to be ... smarter, somehow, than the others. It doesn't just index."
Well, now it finishes my sentences for me, just as if Goggle and I are some sort of long-married old couple. It can correctly guess what movie I'm watching — even though there's more than one film that has used that same line, even though the line has independent historical significance in its own right. Of course, in that scenario, I'm already the stroke-impaired, senile numbskull compared to how quickly it intuits my intent from a handful of keystrokes and then leaps ahead of me.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Silky Pony & co-star negotiate return of sex tapes
I, for one, am relieved by this news: "Sex tape of John Edwards [&] mistress to be destroyed within 30 days after lawsuit settlement."
My relief flows from the general proposition that it's a good thing to reduce, when possible, the total number of things in the universe which, if seen by me by accident, might make me want to stab myself in both eyeballs with knitting needles.
The first version of the story I'd read, from TheHill.com, reported that "all copies of the tape will be destroyed within 30 days." If accomplished, that would be a rare exception to the general rule of thumb about sex videos in the digital/internet age.
But if you read to the end of the AP story, you'll find that "[i]n the settlement, the Youngs pledged to seek the destruction of any copies of the sex tape that may now be in the possession of the federal government." Meaning there are such, and meaning that the feds haven't yet made any such commitment. Nor, likely, could they — not while six felony and misdemeanor campaign finance charges are still pending against Edwards in connection with his co-star.
Just in case, I'm going to avoid acquiring knitting needles.
UPDATE (Fri Feb 24 @ wee-smalls): Local press coverage indicates that we'll certainly hear and see more about the sex tape:
Hunter sued Young after Young's tell-all book published in February 2010 described the tape. The 21-page consent judgment and permanent injunction does carve out a notable exception to the disclosure injunction: items already sold by the Youngs as part of a movie deal based on the book.
"Ms. Hunter was demanding money up until very recently," said Robert Elliot, the Youngs' attorney....
This makes it sound like a financial wash, a walk-away deal where neither side paid any cash to the other. As for what's coming soon to your local motion picture theaters — or, maybe, not?
Information about the sex tape and the list known as "The Slut Club," as described in "The Politician," were specifically exempted from the non-publication order. The Youngs had sold the rights to the tape to Aaron Sorkin of Colvin Road Entertainment as part of movie deal for Young's story and book, according to the agreement, and Elliot said that anything said in the book is fair game.
However, in the agreement filed Thursday, Hunter explicitly retained the right to take the Youngs to court again with regard to the movie if more information stemming from the property returned to her is publicized.
Conspiracy theorists will immediately seize upon Aaron Sorkin's close ties to the Democratic Party and draw enthusiastic inferences and conclusions therefrom. But the Sorkin connection is actually old news. The old saying was that "Politics is show-business for ugly people" — but now it's just all an ugly blur, isn't it, even though some very pretty people are involved?
Thursday, June 09, 2011
As I wrote last week, I respectfully disagree with Ann Althouse that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) ever had any substantial legal exposure to Twitter or Facebook or yfrog on some sort of defamation claim based on his oft-repeated lies claiming his accounts with those services had been "hacked."
So the only thing I have to say this week is this: With his tearful press conference this week, he's now effectively mitigated whatever potential defamation damages exposure he might arguably have had if Prof. Althouse was right: Nobody in the known world now believes that someone hacked his accounts, and there's no possibility of continued damage to Twitter's or Facebook's or yfrog's reputations as a result of this whole debacle.
Smart move, Tony!
(In fact, maybe mitigating his defamation damages exposure was his real motivation to "pretend" to have lied, instead of him being motivated to "pretend" to have lied because he's now the victim of that blackguard Breitbart's blackmail schemes! Yeah, that's the ticket! Alert the media! Someone email Joy Behar!)
Monday, May 30, 2011
Has Rep. Weiner defamed Twitter & Facebook?
Prof. Althouse has an interesting post about the alleged (*cough-cough*) simultaneous hacking of the Twitter and Facebook accounts of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. I, for one, believe that Rep. Weiner is lying through his teeth about the "hacking." But I either fail to follow Prof. Althouse's thinking, however, or else I respectfully disagree with her about an observation she's made in updates to her post (link & ellipsis hers):
AND: If Weiner is lying about his accounts getting hacked, he could be sued by Twitter (and the other companies) for defamation.
ALSO: NBC News reports "Lewd Photo Sent Over Rep. Weiner's Hacked Twitter Account... his Twitter account was hacked." Not that Weiner makes that claim, but an outright assertion that his account was hacked. Twitter is getting slimed here. Does it deserve it?
My disagreement with her is almost certainly not over the relevant law. The specific definitions vary somewhat from state to state, and the common law of libel and slander have been tweaked some by state legislatures and even federal constitutional interpretations. Nevertheless, as a general rule, in order to be defamatory, a statement must not only be false, but must also be harmful in a particular way to particular interests. For example, section 73.001 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code defines a libel as —
a defamation expressed in written or other graphic form that tends to blacken the memory of the dead or that tends to injure a living person's reputation and thereby expose the person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury or to impeach any person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or to publish the natural defects of anyone and thereby expose the person to public hatred, ridicule, or financial injury.
Similarly, section 559 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides:
A communication is defamatory if it tends to so harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.
I simply don't see how what Rep. Weiner's reported to have said — even if false — would harm Twitter's or Facebook's reputation.
Twitter and Facebook should bear no responsibility — legal or even causal — if Rep. Weiner simply chose a low-security password that someone guessed. Nor should they be responsible if, for example, Rep. Weiner used the same high-security password for several accounts and his password was stolen through some wrongdoer's hacking of one of those other services (either with or without the contributing negligence of that other service).
Simply put, unless one takes the view that every unauthorized use of an account must always and necessarily be the fault of the service which hosts that account, a statement that someone's account was hacked does not necessarily imply something harmful to the service's reputation. And I respectfully submit that such would be a patently unrealistic view — even though some people might jump to that conclusion if they have not thought through the alternatives.
The law treats this as a threshold issue to be decided by the judge "as a matter of law," even though it's necessarily based on an appreciation of what does or doesn't affect one's reputation in the community. So I'm curious:
Assume that you are the judge faced with Rep. Weiner's pretrial motion to dismiss Facebook and Twitter's (hypothetical) lawsuit on grounds that, as a matter of law, his statements did not expose Facebook or Twitter to the required sort of reputational harm. What's your ruling?
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
"Sotomayor & Associates" ... meh, who cares?
Nothing has happened since May 26 to make me change my initial take on Pres. Obama's nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Justice Souter's seat on the Supreme Court. (That take, in short, was this: Obama would never nominate anyone of whom I approved, and Judge Sotomayor, if confirmed, will vote the same way as Souter has, but be no more effective than Souter was (and perhaps less so) at swaying the Court's swing vote, Kennedy, in close cases. Republicans should use every opportunity to demonstrate how disastrous it is for the country and the Constitution to have liberal Democrats like Obama in a position to pick politically liberal and judicially activist SCOTUS Justices. But expecting to defeat Sotomayor's nomination is unrealistic unless something big and new comes up from her past, and I'm very grateful Obama didn't nominate someone who'd be much more effective.)
Now it appears from a NYT story that between 1983 and 1986, on behalf of some friends or friends of friends, Sotomayor wrote a few wills, incorporated a few businesses, or helped skim the closing documents for a few condo sales under the exaggerated firm name of "Sotomayor & Associates" while she was really a full-time employee of the Manhattan D.A.'s office or another law firm.
I agree with my blogospheric friend and fellow lawyer Andrew McCarthy that it doesn't take a sophisticated legal analysis for anyone, lawyer or layman, to recognize that claiming to be "Sotomayor & Associates" — when you really don't have any associates — is stupid and misleading. It ought not be done. (On this topic more generally, see also Eric Turkewitz, Jim Lindgren, Glenn Reynolds, John Steele, and the Washington Times,)
I very, very seriously doubt, however, that lawyer Sotomayor's transgression in exaggerating the size of her firm ever actually misled anyone. As small potatoes go, this one is pea-sized or smaller. And as misrepresentations with disastrous public consequences go, this one is utterly microscopic in comparison with, for example, almost any one of Obama's presidential campaign promises, or his own claims to have had significant experience to prepare him for that office.
(Personal disclosure: My own solo law firm — likewise an unincorporated sole proprietorship whose name is only a d/b/a (albeit one duly registered with Harris County) — is carefully designated "Law Office of William J. Dyer" on my letterhead, pleadings, website, and elsewhere to avoid implying more than one regular place of business, more than one lawyer, or any incorporated status that would potentially limit or complicate my personal liability for debts of the law practice. It's a traditional name, but terribly stuffy and boring. I'd rather simply use "Dyer Legal" to correspond with my business internet URL, but the State Bar of Texas — for reasons that are entirely opaque and directly contrary to the square holding (at footnote 12 & accompanying text) of at least one federal district court opinion adopted by the Fifth Circuit — considers that to be an impermissible "trade name" which might mislead the public into thinking that I'm making some representation about the quality of my legal services as compared to other lawyers, which Texas lawyers are forbidden to do. I think state bars in general, including my own, have historically done pathetically bad jobs of preventing genuinely misleading information about lawyers and their services from being spread in the marketplace. I also think that they've almost completely defaulted in their obligations to instead ensure that meaningful and accurate information — information which would help promote informed consumer decisions, and which would tend to drive out misinformation — is constantly available to the public in usable forms. There ought to be no commercial market for an advertising-sponsored legal information-gathering and -distributing service like Avvo.com, for example, because state bars, individually or (better) collectively, ought to have already done all that and more, and have done it much better, via the internet. Which is to say, on this set of legal ethics/public interest issues, I'm a self-interested, grumpy curmudgeon, but not entirely a traditionalist. I do care about these issues, in other words, but I don't think they matter much in the context of the Sotomayor nomination.)
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Today's spam email header that's least likely to pique my further interest
"It will be hard for women to resist the temptation not to sleep with you."
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Renewing Texas drivers licenses online
In consulting the Texas Department of Public Safety's website to find out the location of the nearest drivers license renewal office, I learned today that I, and many other Texans, are able to renew our drivers licenses entirely over the internet, paying by credit card and promising (via an online click) that we haven't incurred some new visual or other disability.
Being spared the inconvenience and indignity of appearing in person to renew my slightly-expired drivers license before embarking upon my annual year-end driving trek to the Panhandle was thus, to me, an unexpected Christmas present.
Thank you, Texas!
(In due course, during the new year, I'll probably ponder, and then grumble over, the marginally increased likelihood of unfit drivers who'd have flunked the in-person eye-test and stopped driving as a result — in particular if one such collides with my car. But having been spared today something I'd been dreading, I'm willing to let the gift horse's teeth go unchecked for the rest of 2008.)