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Archive for January, 2010

Food Notes

January 7, 2010 2 comments

[Photographs by Michael Hansen for The New York Times]

I have several different items to write about and limited time, so I’ll collect them all in one post and write briefly about each.
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Categories: Food, Restaurants

Book/Kindle Update Update

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m reading Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World at last. I have mentioned this book many times, so I will say little here. First I wanted to read it, then I expected to get it for my birthday (or the closest approximation to my birthday, at the end of last February) but didn’t, then I finally bought it in August but didn’t want to carry such a big book to Nantucket with me so didn’t take it, then I realized in October that I certainly didn’t want to carry it to Europe but was tired of postponing my reading of it and so I bought it yet again for the Kindle, but then I loaded more books on the Kindle than I could possibly read while away and Ahamed’s book didn’t get read, then I got home in mid-November and read other books, and so on. In my New Year’s Day post about my latest reading, I talked about how some books, such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, are unsuited to the Kindle because of front matter or back matter that is not easily accessible. In contrast, William Langewiesche’s Fly by Wire, which I had just finished reading on the Kindle, was perfect.

And that brings me to Lords of Finance, which I’m now about 75 pages into and enjoying even more than I anticipated. The heart of the book, or so I understand, is a recounting of international banking issues of the 1920s and 1930s, as seen through the lives and actions of four bankers, the head bankers of the US, Britain, France, and Germany. But I’m still in the first part, in which each of the four bankers is introduced and his life described up to the summer of 1914, at the onset of World War I, along with the story of the banking crisis that ensued. It’s a gripping story.

What I want to talk about isn’t the book but the experience of being able to read it either on the Kindle or in actual physical book form. To my surprise, I seem more inclined to go for the Kindle. I forced myself to take the book to bed with me last night and was able to confirm that I simply like holding the much thinner and lighter Kindle when I’m lying down. It’s easier to hold, the pages are easier to turn, and this more than makes up for the lower level of contrast between the print and the background. One annoying feature of the Kindleization of this particular book is the large vertical space between paragraphs. I haven’t seen that before. My first night reading the book, I thought Ahamed was breaking his chapters into a surprisingly large number of sections, until I realized that those big skips were happening every paragraph and were just the Kindle’s rendering of the standard space before a new paragraph. It’s not really a problem. It doesn’t distract from the reading. It’s just incredibly inelegant, something I would think unacceptable in a printed book, but something one quickly gets used to.

My procedure, then, seems to be to read the book on the Kindle when I’m in bed and in ordinary physical form during the day. This brings me to the real inconvenience. I can’t sync the two! Thanks to the magic of Amazon’s Whispernet technology, if the Kindle’s wireless connection is on (at the cost of significantly shortening the time the Kindle runs before the battery needs re-charging), it tells the Amazon’s cloud server where you are in a book. Then, if you pick up the book on another platform — your iPhone say, or another Kindle that someone else in the family has on the same account — you can turn to the book and it’s at the right page. This turns out to be a great feature, one I’ve used more than I would have expected. And one I am now so accustomed to that on some unconscious level I expect the physical bookmark in my book to move to the appropriate place after a reading session on the Kindle. Maybe Amazon can work on this. In the meantime, this problem highlights one drawback of reading a book on the Kindle: the total lack of physical awareness of where you are in it. There are location numbers, but these are a by-product of the Kindleization process and don’t correlate with page numbers. That’s not even the point, though. The point is that there’s no immediate intuition about how far along you are in a Kindled book similar to what we experience unconsciously just by holding a physical book.

By now I have probably exhausted every thought I have on the Kindle. I’ll stop writing about it and focus more on the books in future posts.

Categories: Books, Technology

Book/Kindle Update

January 1, 2010 2 comments

I still haven’t entirely sorted out when I prefer to read a book on my Kindle and when I prefer to read a physical book. But I have just had what may be the perfect Kindle experience. Two days ago, the current New York Review of Books arrived in the mail. As always, on inspecting the table of contents, I was eager to read many of the articles. I began with Jonathan Raban’s review of Sarah Palin, then continued with the next article, James Salter’s review of William Langewiesche’s recent book on the crash landing last January of the US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

I had read about the book — Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudsonin the NYT and elsewhere, but I hadn’t anticipated wanting to read it. Salter’s review got my attention. I’m interested in airplanes and flying. Who isn’t? And I realized the book is much more than an account of the flight itself. The larger theme is Airbus’s decision over 25 years ago to design the A320 as a fly-by-wire airplane, one controlled by computers and electronics rather than cables and hydraulics, and one whose programming would limit errors on a pilot’s part, with no option for the pilot to over-ride the computer settings. The story of US Airways Flight 1549 is interwoven with both the history of the A320 and gripping accounts of famous airplane crashes or near-crashes. These accounts highlight the role of pilot error and the benefits of limiting the pilot’s range of options.

Anyway, after reading Salter’s review two evenings ago, I thought this is a book I would enjoy. And it’s short — just 200 pages. Minutes later, we headed off to a party. We were back a little before 11:00 PM, and while I was catching up on some news on my computer, I realized I could be reading the book. All I had to do was download it for my Kindle. I went to Amazon.com, found the book, clicked that I wanted the Kindle version downloaded, and when I headed upstairs, the book was waiting for me.
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Categories: Books, Technology