Tag Archives: opinion

Review: The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is a book that I have very mixed feelings about.
Let us start by imagining a world where our cell phones anticipate what we need before we need it. We begin to wonder what our grandparent’s birthday is and it springs to life with the information we need. All it required was a thought. That word on the tip of our tongue appears on the screen just before we need it so you can complete your thought without missing a beat. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the power and obvious desirability of the technology in this book.
The Word Exchange is an online marketplace where words are bought and sold. Did you forget the definition of a word? Have the definition instantly available for mere change. A quick micro-transaction and viola, the word you intended. But we get pretty familiar with the words we use, don’t we? What if we became so dependent on technology that our brains no longer stored memories as efficiently since we have these nifty devices reading our thoughts and providing the data we seek?

The Word Exchange pulls a very clever trick here. The characters in our book write definitions for the NADEL, a dictionary. Their vocabulary is spectacular. I had to use the ‘word lookup’ feature of my Kindle Paperwhite frequently, especially during the first quarter of the book. It provided an incredibly unsettling feeling that maybe this dependence on technology is already happening to us. Maybe we are already forgetting these words that were once a part of our language.

This trick, in my opinion, was only clever because I was able to very quickly grab a definition. If I was reading a paper copy, I don’t think I would have spent the time looking up words. Although perhaps it would have been sufficient to drive a different point home. That point being that if we’re not using this language, we lose it. If it isn’t saved somewhere, it could be gone forever.

On this premise the book succeeds.
Then comes the Word Flu. The Word Flu is an illness that strikes and presents much the way the flu does that we’re familiar with. High fever, nausea, vomiting, etc. However, the Word Flu also presents in such a way that words in your vocabulary are replaced with others. Often times nonsense.

Since a condition of my early readers copy is that I not share any text, I will prepare my own example.
“Why is everyone oxbowing at me,” she wondered. “I did remember to kaneek my pants, right?”
And this example also serves to make one of the points of The Word Exchange. Words are powerful. They are functional. Is everyone looking at her? Is everyone shoving her? Did she remember to wear her pants? Or zip her pants? Words disappearing is problematic for society.

It’s also problematic for the reader. At least for this reader. I read to disappear into a story. I was never able to comfortably settle into The Word Exchange. These breaks would snap me back to reality while I considered what was actually trying to be said.
This is one of those instances where I think the author was making a point but that it also worked against them. The mechanic is beautiful and works. Unfortunately it works to a fault. I found myself hating to read this book.

The books pacing seemed glacial until about the halfway point. From there it seemed to accelerate to a snail’s pace. I think the author or editor must have known that because they occasionally dropped hints that certain parts of the story would pay off later. An example might be something like, “And I’d learn soon that it wasn’t so cut and dry.” They had to keep dangling a carrot. I considered walking away repeatedly and only the obligation to the review kept me hanging around. But I was miserable finishing.

The characters were good enough, I guess. Our character lead Anana was likable enough but also capable enough that I never really feared for her all that much. I guess that makes sense though since much of the danger was presented toward people she cared about, and not necessarily directed at her. Also, despite her being in near constant motion it seems like she’s more a victim of circumstance rather than actually moving the story forward. Honestly it feels like most of the book is just happening to her, she’s not manipulating her circumstances at all.

As for the other characters, Anana seems to care about them but I never saw enough to share in her feelings. I really found myself even struggling to care about anyone beyond her. Even when they set the stage for a romance, I couldn’t care less.

So I guess that’s probably enough. The things that work in the book work tremendously. I get the idea that in the future the Word Flu could really disrupt us due to our growing dependence on technology. I get the idea that words are powerful and losing even some of them could be disastrous. The story itself though, the meat and potatoes of The Word Exchange were just meh.

This one was a hard one for me, folks. And it kills me to dislike a book that executes its premise so well. But here we are.

Good alnox, my friends. Gritbaugh.

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Kindle Paperwhite 2013–My thoughts

pw_tnSo my wife told me to order the new Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday. I figured they would fix the issues with the screen and I could sell mine for a good price since, lets be honest, this latest version isn’t much of an upgrade. I went to read the reviews and the first one-star review I read gave me pause. He is experiencing the same screen issues I saw with the first-gen Paperwhite. The same issue that had me send my Paperwhite back several times. But it was only one guy, the other one-star complaints were bordering on ridiculous.

But then I scratched my head and I asked myself… what hardware differences exist between this model and last years? … Supposedly a faster processor – this wouldn’t matter to readers as we don’t have apps on this thing.. so whether or not this is true? Doesn’t really matter.

Secondly, they changed the case. There is now a large Amazon logo on the back. Some folks complained but Amazon explained that the name Amazon is more familiar worldwide than Kindle – which adorned the back of the first-gen Paperwhite. I’m not really one to care about stuff that is going to be hidden in a case anyway. I’ll call this a wash.

Finally, they redesigned the light guides so there are less uneven spots like what last years model had. This is the hardware aspect that interests me the most. I was promised even lighting in the first-gen model, and it took me a lot of returns to get one that most closely delivered on that promise.

So what changes will matter most to readers? Software. There are some new features, such as the device remembering when you look up a word. It tosses the word into a deck of on-screen cards so you can expand your vocabulary. This could be of some use to me since I tend to use the same twenty-six words over and over again. It’s true. This article was written with only twenty-six words. Count them.  .. okay, don’t. I lied about that. But it could come in handy. Who doesn’t like appearing well edju-ma-cated?

Then there is upcoming Goodreads integration. If anyone is patient enough to write a book review on the Kindle, they are a better person than I. The integration though seems to have more to do with what your friends are reading and recommending. Similar to what we saw with Barnes & Noble’s NOOKfriends software.

Another new feature is Page Flip. An option that lets you bounce between different areas of the book, like those maps in Game of Thrones without leaving the page you’re on. Improved footnote handling is also advertised. Now the callouts are handled on the current screen, without bouncing you to another part of the book.

There are a couple of other little things both hardware and software wise that seem less notable. But the biggest changes are software.. and it sort of irritates me that existing owners aren’t given the opportunity to purchase a software upgrade. I see nothing in that new software feature set that requires a faster processor.

I’m sure at least a few of you would consider a $20-$30 upgrade to the new software if you were interested in the new features. Especially considering $20-$30 is more than Amazon is making on the hardware they are selling. We hear all the time that Kindle’s are a loss leader; it’s the books and apps that they make money on. Why not make a chunk of change on the OS too?

I guess the whole point of this was to think my decision to buy out loud. I really like my Kindle Paperwhite 2012 but it does have just the tiniest bit of uneven lighting. It’s very minor. But I am very interested in some of the software features, particularly the upcoming Goodreads integration. And Page Flip will come in handy when reading Game of Thrones, so will X-Ray for that matter – but that’s not a new feature.

So yes, I think the Paperwhite 2013 is worth a shot. But you can bet that I’ll be getting a perfect model this time. No compromise. The Paperwhite 2012 is almost perfect, the new software isn’t compelling enough to accept ‘almost perfect’ again.

Wish me luck. This could be the last eInk eReader I buy for a very long time.

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My take on DRM

There are few more contentious topics in ebooks, or digital media, in general, than DRM. Digital Rights Management.

What is it? What does it do and why in the world would I want it?

DRM is meant to protect unlawful copy of copyrighted material. It is meant to insure that the copy of 50 Shades of Grey that you bought for your NOOK doesn’t get sent to your 20 best girlfriends. It is meant to protect the publisher and I guess author’s ability to collect money from an increasingly portable medium.

This protection is considered important because it is a lot easier to copy a digital file today than it was in the analog days. When you had to walk to the Xerox machine and copy a physical book one page at a time. Although that method had protection too, it was called laziness and .25 a sheet copies. Although that didn’t stop my High School Biology teacher from Xeroxing the entire contents of Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone” for us to read in class. That being said, he probably had a school copier and use a student aide to overcome the archaic copy protections of the 90’s.

In any case, I often get asked my opinions on DRM thanks to my helping moderate a NOOK fan page on Facebook. When I say I’m often asked my opinion, I mean I’m asked “What’s your problem, man? You on some kind of power trip? You suck!” In their sincere appeal for clarity I’ve decided to share with you my own two cents on the issue.

There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to DRM, or more accurately, the removal of it. The first school of thought is: It’s Illegal! The second school of thought is: It is NOT Illegal. My take on the matter is: I’m not a lawyer. And either are you. Or maybe you are and I’m grossly out of touch with my demographic. Which until now I thought consisted of my wife and mom occasionally. – Love you both!

But I digress. My official stance on DRM is that it is a pain in the ass. Furthermore it is annoyingly easy to remove, which means that it’s really more of a deterrent to honest, good folks who weren’t likely to rob you blind anyhow. What are authors and publishers really afraid of you may ask and the answer is piracy. The author and publisher are concerned that you’ll buy The Hunger Games and send a copy of it to every person you know with an eReader. It’s a legitimate concern, but DRM isn’t the fix and they know it.

Great, so what’s it mean?

Barnes & Noble actually uses a combination of your full name and your credit card number to generate your DRM key. With that information the NOOK or NOOK software is able to unlock the file and you can view it. However, without the key – your file is useless. So long as the NOOK DRM servers are standing you should never have a concern with your DRM protected files. You are who you say you are and the files will unlock every time. However, if B&N decides to shut down the server, that leaves a lot of us with books up on their server, in their cloud, out of our reach.

It is very unlikely that we would be taken in such a fashion but the concept itself isn’t unthinkable. You really need look no further than a Microsoft developed DRM called PlaysForSure. Microsoft closed their MSN Music store and shut down the DRM approval servers. Prior to doing so they let everyone know so they could generate a local key to keep their purchased music playing. But what if you don’t back up your machine properly and lose that key? All of the music you purchased is now useless. Further claims made against PlaysForSure is that that key was married to the PC you owned, so you couldn’t copy it to a new computer if you purchased new. That, my friends, is why DRM is bad, m’kay?

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So what do we do about it?

Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? There are a number of ways to remove DRM from your digital files. Google is your best friend is this regard. As for the legality – remember, I’m not a lawyer. The major legal battle field seems to be between fair use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Fair use allows you to backup software, music, etc. you own, while DRM prevents it in most cases. Cracking DRM can be considered illegal depending on your intention. If you break DRM to make a backup, the law would seem to say you are alright to do so. If you do it to share your book with a friend, then you are committing an illegal act.

Now here is where the law gets a little foggy. That Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it a criminal act to develop a piece of software that removes DRM as well as distribute it. So it’s a chicken and egg kind of deal. Someone has to break the law, so you can make non-DRM protected copies. Someone has to break the DRM. Illegal. Someone has to write an application that can do it en masse. Illegal. Someone has to distribute that method. Illegal. So you can backup your books without fear of losing them someday. Which may or may not be legal.

Are you thoroughly confused? I know I am.

 

So what do you personally do?

That, my friends, is a question that I am not going to answer. Again, because I’m not a lawyer. No one should be able to sue me for removing DRM, but you shouldn’t be able to be held indefinitely without trial in this country either but apparently our current administration thinks that’s alright now. So I’ll plead the 5th, while I’m still able to do so but I’ll drop a few opinions.

In my opinion, I should be able to whatever I like with the books I own as long as it is for my own use. So if I want to buy an ebook from B&N and read it on my NOOK, cool. If I want to read it on my phone, cool. If I want to read it on my iPad in iBooks since their book sync technology is so much further along than the NOOK, then I should be able to. If I want to serve up my personal library in Calibre via the Content Server, I should be free to do that as well.

It is my opinion, that if you are removing DRM for your own use, and not to the detriment of the copyright holder, then you should be free to do so.

In my opinion, DRM is like securing your bike to a tree with a piece of rope. Honest folks are going to understand the bike is being held for its legitimate owner and will leave well enough alone. Criminals are going to cut your rope and take your bike. DRM is just as easy to remove in the case of ebooks. That means that DRM is only inconveniencing the honest customers since it isn’t working against the real threat.

It seems you dislike DRM, so why do you get your panties in a bunch on Facebook?

The answer to that is an easy one. Because I’m asked to. I’m not the creator of our group. I’m just asked to enforce the rules that the groups owner set.

But also because I don’t think we have any lawyers. IF ripping DRM is illegal, I don’t think you should necessarily run around in a public forum like Facebook talking about doing it. Unless you’re N.W.A., I would leave the whole “F*** the Police” shtick out of the public eye.

God, this is so long. Would you wrap this up already?

Fine. In summary, I can condense all of this into the following: DRM is idiotic but protecting our authors and the publishers’ investment in them is a good cause. DRM is just simply not the way to go about protecting that investment.

Review: The Concrete Blonde

The Concrete Blonde The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one kept me guessing until the very end. On one occasion I really thought I had figured it out. In my own defense, I think Connelly steered us in that direction and when the characters in the book announced my belief I thought YES! I was right.. and then No! I wasn’t. This book has an incredible twist ending.

This book was also equal parts legal thriller as police procedural. This book takes place while Harry and the LAPD are on trial for the supposed wrongful death of an innocent man. The man’s widow says that her husband was not the Dollmaker, as Harry and the LAPD had determined.

The Dollmaker trial is a nice bit of continuity since we heard about the Dollmaker killing in at least one of the previous two books.

Harry and the LAPD are convinced they have the right man until another letter from the Dollmaker and a new body surfaces with all of the murderer’s characteristics. Has a serial killer been allowed to roam free while an innocent man took the blame? Did Harry kill the wrong man? All will be revealed.

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Review: Ascend

Ascend
Ascend by Amanda Hocking

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m just going to write this review on the entire Trylle trilogy instead of on a single book. The books are short enough that they could have been a single book but that’s beside the point. The prices were reasonable so the complaints shouldn’t be too loud.

Spoiler Alert: I’m covering a whole trilogy here, so there will be spoilers. If you plan on reading this series, I’d skip this review.

The trilogy’s central character is a girl named Wendy who finds out she was switched at birth. She is heir to the throne of a Troll kingdom. Trolls differ from our fairytale versions of them. They are essentially like us but some have abilities like telekinesis, mind speak, can read auras, etc. In any event, Wendy is pulled from the home she knows when a rival Troll faction sets out to kidnap her.

It turns out that that rival faction is actually her father’s tribe. Her mother’s tribe is very strong with the mental powers and is able to reproduce, while her father’s tribe is supernaturally physically strong but their reproduction produces hobgoblins. So the whole of trilogy is about Wendy learning her way as princess while learning how to deal with the threat of her father’s tribe.

The politics and the friendships within this book are fine with a cast of likable characters like Rhys, Matt, Willa, Duncan and Tove. But it’s the romance that quickly grows tiring and irritating. Let’s map out some of the relationships within this book. In Switched, the romantic tension exists between Wendy & Finn and to a much less degree between Wendy & Rhys. In Torn, the romantic tension exists between Wendy & Finn, Wendy & Loki and then Wendy becomes engaged to Tove, not out of love but responsibility to the kingdom. In Ascend, the romantic tension is resolved. Wendy cheats on her husband, giving her virginity to Loki, gets her marriage annulled and then marries Loki.

And there is my issue with this series, our heroine is wishy-washy with her emotions and comes off looking like a whore. The entire series finds her in love with (or engaged to, or married to) one person and giving herself to another. I found myself convinced that if there was ever a book four that I would have absolutely no interest in reading it.

If the book illustrates anything to us it is that Wendy will make a great Queen but a terrible individual. It is that juxtaposition that keeps the trilogy from getting 1 star from me. Wendy is a horrible person with conflicting emotions at every turn of the page, but she’s a great leader. And that resonates a bit more with me. It’s unfortunate that Wendy turned out this way because the story held such promise.

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Review: Switched

Switched
Switched by Amanda Hocking
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re familiar with the self-published world of eBook authors you’ve probably heard of the 26-year-old author turned millionaire Amanda Hocking. According to a businessinsider.com article, Hocking is selling around 100,000 copies of her eBooks every month. Those books sell for anywhere from .99 cents to $3. And when you get to keep 70% of that, you’re doing pretty well.

I’m interested in pop culture, and I love reading, so I had to know if this girl was the real deal or just a girl cashing in on the Twi-hards and writing rip off vampire novels. For the record, she does have vampire novels for sale but I opted to give her tremendously popular Trylle trilogy a look. The first book, Switched, introduces a Trylle named Wendy who doesn’t know she’s Trylle. A Trylle is a troll, but not the storybook variety. There are similarities such as a penchant for baubles but you could hardly imagine a Trylle living under a bridge. They seem blessed with above average looks and some have magical abilities.

I was looking for comparisons to Twilight and seemed to find them, but the same could probably be said for just about any popular YA novel these days. Not because they ripped off Twilight but because the love triangle story has been told before. Everything’s been done before, so now it’s just a matter of how well it’s been done. In the case of Switched, it’s been done very well indeed.

The pages turned themselves. I found myself saying I’ll finish this chapter and then reading into the next one saying the same thing. The story is compelling, the characters are well written. Nothing was over explained but I was able to imagine the characters, locations, etc. And since Wendy didn’t know anything about the Trylle before she finds out she is one, the characters can fill in the blanks naturally in conversation, instead of a jarring, unnatural first-person monologue.

This book is well written, but poorly formatted. Nowhere near as bad as I’ve seen them in the past, but enough to know that I would never let my book ship in that condition. It may work fine for Kindle, but I’d want my NOOK book to look just as nice. Finally, it was short. But it was a good story in that limited time. No fluff, just page turning enjoyment. Definitely YA fare though, not that there is anything at all wrong with that.

It gets a Goodreads 3 stars out of 5, no half stars this time. It was better than “okay” and I “liked it”.

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