Killing Time

All through the pandemic, I’ve often had the feeling that I’m just killing time. I’m not really trying to do anything useful or fun or important. I’m just trying to get through the day, getting my work done, staying healthy, distracting myself, and doing no harm to myself or anyone else. I’m feeling that pretty strongly this weekend. We had a fair amount of snow Friday night, and very cold temperatures yesterday and today. So I haven’t been able to go out and take any long walks. And I haven’t wanted to dig my car out and drive anywhere. I don’t want to push myself too hard, because I know how easy it is for me to get sick in this kind of weather. I have a dentist’s appointment tomorrow morning, which was rescheduled from December, so I really want to be healthy enough to go to that. I’ve been sick a lot over the last few months, but I’ve been in pretty good shape for the last couple of weeks, and I’d like to stay that way.

So, anyway, I’ve been trying to strike a balance this weekend, where I’m getting important stuff done, and enjoying myself a bit, and not going stir crazy. I got my laundry and grocery shopping done yesterday, so that covered the really important stuff that I needed to do. I kind of punted on lunch and dinner yesterday, though, just eating pizza for both meals. And I spent about five hours yesterday catching up on Legends of Tomorrow. (It’s a pretty dumb show, but it’s fun, and occasionally clever.) I managed to clean the snow off my car, and clear some of the snow around it too.

Today, I managed to prepare reasonably healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so I’m considering that a win. I did a fair bit of reading today. I finished one short ebook, read two more short ebooks, then started two more slightly longer ebooks. All of them are short story collections. I’ve been trying to put a dent in my backlog of old Kindle books, and have mostly been reading stuff that I bought (or got for free) about a decade ago. I haven’t really wanted to start a new novel, so I’m sticking with short stories for now.

Meanwhile, I’ve started listening to the Dresden Files audiobooks that I bought a couple of years ago. The set I bought has the first four books, all of which I read, in paperback, quite some time ago. They’re fun books, and they’re read by James Marsters, who does a great job with them. They work well in audio format, since they use first-person narration, and since they’re fairly linear and easy to follow. So that’s what I’ve been doing with my evenings, when I’m just trying to kill time until it’s time for bed.  (I generally try to stay awake until 10 PM, but last night, I gave up at 9 PM and just went to bed early.)

I also wasted a bit of time today by deciding to make a “comics” shelf in Goodreads and start applying it to the comics and graphic novels in my library. I don’t have a great reason for doing that, and I don’t think it’s going to terribly useful. But it kept me busy for a while and gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Despite the weather, I even managed to go for a 20 minute walk today. I waited until the warmest point in the day, around 4 PM. Even then, it was only 25º. So it wasn’t the most pleasant walk, but it felt good.

It’s now Sunday night, and I’m returning to one of my traditional ways of killing time: watching football. I’d pretty much given up on football several years ago, but I occasionally try to get back into it. Usually, I can’t manage much enthusiasm. But the playoff games this year have been pretty fun. The AFC and NFC championships are today. The AFC one just ended, in overtime. I’m going to try to watch the beginning, at least, of the NFC game too. I may give up on it at some point and switch over to my Dresden Files audiobook.

Well, this has been a rambling post. But that’s OK. I needed to get some of these thoughts out of my head. Sometimes I think I should just write posts like this in Day One, where no one else can read them, but I guess there’s no harm in posting them here. Maybe someone will find something here amusing. You never know!

Kindle Paperwhite

I finally broke down and bought a Kindle Paperwhite this week. When I bought it, it was on sale for $40 off, for Prime members. (It looks like that deal has ended now.) The “regular” price on the Paperwhite is $120, but it’s frequently on sale for $100 or $90. This was, I think, the first time it’s been marked down to $80. There’s been some talk about whether or not this means that a new version of the Paperwhite is imminent, but the consensus seems to be probably not.

I actually bought the version with free cellular connectivity, which was $150, down from $190. My last two Kindles both had the cellular connectivity option, and it does come in handy often enough that it’s worth a few extra bucks for me.

I bought my last Kindle in 2011, so I was due for a new one. The old one still works, but there are enough new features in the Paperwhite, and it’s cheap enough, that upgrading made sense. I’ve though about getting a Paperwhite a few times in the past, but never quite talked myself into it. I guess the low price is what finally got me to plunk down some money on it.

So far, I like it, though I haven’t done any serious reading on it yet. The obvious feature of the Paperwhite that sets it apart from my old Kindle is the light. (I want to call it a backlight, but it’s not actually a backlight. Here’s an old NY Times graphic that shows how it actually works.) I’ve been using a clip-on light with my old Kindle, and that works, but it’s a little clunky and inconvenient. The light on the Paperwhite should be much better than that, but I won’t really know until I’ve used it for a bit. The general consensus is that it’s very good, and doesn’t mess with your eyes or your ability to fall asleep the way an iPad screen or laptop screen would. (There’s some interesting discussion on this topic at Quora.)

I was also curious about the Goodreads integration, and hopeful that it would be useful. Here’s a write-up from Engadget, from when they first added the Goodreads stuff in 2013, and something from the Goodreads blog from 2016, when they made some changes. I’ve been using Goodreads for the last couple of years, and I’ve got several hundred books in there, all tagged appropriately with both the standard tags (Want to Read, Currently Reading, etc.) and some custom tags (Kindle, library book, ebook, etc). Goodreads lets you view your books with multiple tags applied, so it’s easy for me to pull up a list of, for instance, unread Kindle books.

The Kindle/Goodreads integration is OK, and somewhat helpful, but not all it could be. First, it treats your “Want to Read” tag more like a wishlist than a queue. I only put stuff into Goodreads once I’ve actually bought the book, so my “Want to Read” list is basically my pile of unread books. (Currently at 255 books. Sigh.) Second, it doesn’t always recognize that you already own some Kindle books in your Goodreads account. I guess that’s due to me adding the wrong edition of the book or something like that. Third, it only lets you see (and work with) the standard tags and not your own custom ones. So there are enough little issues with the Goodreads integration to make it less useful than it could be.

Similar to Goodreads tags, you can now create Cloud Collections of your Kindle books, either directly on the device, or on Amazon’s web site. My previous Kindle supported collections, but they didn’t sync at all; they were just on the device. And they were hard enough to create that I didn’t really use them. It looks like the ability to manage collections from the web was added in 2016. I went through and created some collections on the web site last night and it was pretty easy. So now I have a collection of all the Harry Potter books, and one with all my Star Trek novels, and a few others like that. That should be helpful. I’d really like to be able to auto-create collections from my Goodreads tags, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to do that.

So now I’ve got some organization applied to my extensive list of Kindle ebooks, but not quite as much as I’d like. I think I’m still going to use Goodreads on the web, combined with some notes I keep in Evernote, to keep track of which books I’ve read and which I haven’t, and to figure out what I want to read next. And the Kindle itself will mostly serve as a reading device and not really for organization and discovery of books. (Which is pretty much the same way I use my current Kindle.)

I’m also thinking about how to handle ebooks that I didn’t buy from Amazon. I have a fair number of those, mostly from Humble Bundles, old public domain books, and free books given away by publishers. Some of those show in my cloud library, since I’d previously emailed them to my old Kindle. Those that I loaded onto the old Kindle via USB, though, don’t show up anywhere. So I don’t know if I want to copy them over to the new Kindle or punt on that and just copy them over when and if I decide to read them. (Probably the latter.) I may play around with Calibre a bit, and see if I can use that to organize my miscellaneous DRM-free ebooks, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble.

So this has turned into a pretty long post that’s more about ebook organization than the Kindle itself, so I should probably quit here. After I’ve actually read a book or two on the new Paperwhite, I’ll post some thoughts on its usability as a reading device.

Mysterious Marvel Kindle Sale

From Bleeding Cool:

A few days ago, unpromoted and for no apparent reason, Marvel titles on Amazon Kindle dropped. Really dropped. To between 70% to 97.5% off.

Very weird. Comics bought from Amazon for the Kindle can also be read through the Comixology app, and I’ve noticed in the past that the Amazon/Kindle price for a given book is often synced to the Comixology price. That’s definitely not the case here as, for instance, Comixology is running a one-day Spectacular Spider-Man sale, where most of their sale prices are more than the current Amazon prices.

I’m not sure what Amazon’s motive is here. It’s not an advertised sale, and the prices are so low, they can’t be making much money off it. Maybe they’re just trying to get more people interested in reading comics on the Kindle?

I bought twelve books on Friday, for a grand total of around $25. (I wasn’t going to buy any more, but I broke down and bought two more today.)

I’ve been trying to control my spending on digital comics. I buy a lot of stuff from Comixology (and Humble and Dark Horse Digital) when it’s on sale, then I just keep a running list in Evernote of what I’ve bought and what I’ve read. My Comixology unread list is at 99 items right now. Most of those entries are collections or runs of single issues, so it’s not 99 comics; it’s more like 999 comics.

But hey, as Dennis the Menace once said, “One thing I’ve learned in life is you can never have too many comic books!”

Amazon Prime Reading

Amazon seems to be rolling out a bunch of random stuff to Prime members lately. I blogged about Audible Channels last week. Now, they’ve started up something called Amazon Prime Reading. This is a service that lets Prime members read a variety of books, comics, and magazines for free.

This is distinct from the Kindle Owners Lending Library, which is available only to Kindle owners, and doesn’t require Prime membership. And from Kindle Unlimited, which lets you read an unlimited number of books (from a broad but still somewhat limited selection) for $10 per month (including audiobooks). And also from Kindle First, which lets Prime members “buy” one book per month for free from a selection of six or so new releases. It’s all very confusing.

I’ve used the Kindle “lending library” once or twice. It’s not easy to find books that are part of that program, and there’s not really much of a selection. I’ve been getting a book from Kindle First every month since the program launched, but, until recently, had just been letting them pile up. I decided to read a few recently, and I was pleasantly surprised. There are some pretty good books in there. (There’s probably a lot of dreck too, but I haven’t hit any yet.) I’ve never been tempted to sign up for Kindle Unlimited. I already “own” plenty of ebooks that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, so there’s no reason to pay a subscription fee to get access to more.

So I guess it’s a good thing that there are more and more ways to get access to free reading material. But I’ve got plenty to read, regardless. Looking at Goodreads, I see that I’ve got 179 books currently tagged as “to read.” That ought to be enough to keep me busy for quite a while.

John Ashbery

I’ve been reading old issues of the New Yorker at lunch time recently. (I’m still working through the backlog of issues from the last time I had a subscription.) Earlier this week, I came across a poem by John Ashbery. I first read his poetry back when I was in college, for a class, and remember enjoying it. I don’t usually like most of the poetry in the New Yorker, but once in a while something clicks. So it got me thinking about Ashbery and maybe picking up a book of his work. I checked Amazon, and was surprised to see that the first few I looked at weren’t available for the Kindle.

I didn’t think too much about it, but I stumbled across this old article from the NY Times today, which explains a few things. It makes sense, and it’s good to know that I can pick up a number of his books in ebook format, though they’re kind of expensive. The 100-page Three Poems is $15 on Kindle, while the 1000-page hardcover Collected Poems is just under $30. So you can get the complete text of his first dozen books in a nice hardcover for $30, or an ebook of just one for $15. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I guess I shouldn’t look for sense in the pricing of poetry books and ebooks.

I don’t understand nearly enough about poetry to tell you why John Ashbery is good, and why I like his work. But I’ve been thinking lately that poetry acts on the brain in a way that’s different from other prose, and perhaps it’s beneficial to read some, now and then.

Kindle Oasis

I’ve been thinking about buying a new Kindle for a while now. Since the rumors of a new Kindle surfaced, I decided to hold off and wait to see what they came out with. Well, they just came out with the Kindle Oasis, which is pretty cool, and I want one, but it costs almost $300. So I think I’m going to wait until the next time the Paperwhite goes on sale, and get one of those.

Thinking about a new Kindle

I resisted buying a new Kindle Paperwhite when they were on sale for $99 a few weeks ago. (The regular price is $119.) But now they’re on sale for $89, and I have a $50 gift certificate that my brother gave me for my birthday last month. So that’s tempting.

But I’m glad I held out, since it looks like a new Kindle is coming next week. Details are sketchy, but it’s probably worth waiting until the new one is announced before buying a Paperwhite. Of course, if the new one is a new high-end Kindle like the Voyage, I’ll probably want a Paperwhite rather than that anyway.

The thing that really motivated me to start thinking about a new Kindle, by the way, was reading a book with a bunch of footnotes recently. My old Kindle doesn’t handle that well, but the newer ones, including the Paperwhite and Voyage, show footnotes in a popup window.

old Kindle

When looking back at some old blog posts today, I realized that my Kindle is five years old. I’m still using it regularly, and it’s still working fine. (I just finished reading The City & The City, and just started reading The Windup Girl. Both books are highly recommended.) After five years, you’d think the battery would be dead, but nope, it still holds a charge. (Probably not as much of a charge as when it was new, but still enough to get by.)

Amazon has the Paperwhite on sale today, for $20 off. I’m occasionally tempted to buy one of those, but as long as the old one is working well, I don’t see much point.


iBooks on the Mac

I have a few things I want to write up and post today, and, taken together, I think they’re going to make me look like a cranky old man. But that’s ok.

I bought a couple of Microsoft Press ebooks from O’Reilly today, since they’re having a “Farewell MS Press” 60% off sale right now, so I thought I’d snag a couple while they were cheap and still DRM-free. It looks like MS Press is moving to Pearson for distribution, starting April 1. It’s unclear as to whether or not they’ll continue to offer DRM-free ebooks, but (being a pessimistic and cranky old man), I’m guessing no.

So, after downloading them, I wanted to drag them into iTunes so I could read them on my iPad with iBooks. (That’s a lot of iProducts, huh?) Well, I hadn’t done that in a while, so, for some reason, I launched iBooks on my Mac. I don’t think I’d ever actually done that before, as I don’t really read books on the MacBook. It prompted me to import my books from iTunes, so I went ahead and did that. Now I’m cranky.

Having a dedicated app to read books on the Mac seems like a good idea. There’s no particularly good reason books should be kept in iTunes. But, after going through that import process, I’m not entirely happy with the result. iTunes kept books in a nicely-organized folder, with sub-folders by author name, and files named (sensibly) according to the book title. And (of course) if you pulled in a book with bad metadata, you could press Command-I on it in iTunes and edit the metadata.

iBooks, on the other hand, stores all the books in one folder, no sub-folders, with names that appear to be randomly-assigned GUIDs. And there’s no right-clck “View in Finder” option in iBooks, so there’s really no telling which one is which. And there’s no way to edit metadata in iBooks, so if you import a book with bad metadata, it’s quite a task to change it. (There’s some more help with that here.) Or I could switch back to iTunes, but that’s pretty darn complicated.

I’m starting to wonder if I should switch to a third-party reader app (much as I did with podcasts last week) and give up on iTunes. Almost all of the ebooks I want access to on my iPad are DRM-free ones from O’Reilly and Packt. I already have a few apps on my iPad that might do the trick, including GoodReader, the Kindle app, and OverDrive. Maybe I need to pick one that works well with DRM-free epubs or mobi files, and stick with it.

Harry Potter ebooks

So Pottermore finally started selling the Harry Potter books in ebook format this week. (And they’re selling the audiobooks too.) I signed up for an account there a couple of days ago, and I just went in and bought the bundle of all seven books.

Some things I like about this:

  1. They offer the books in multiple formats, including DRM-free (but watermarked) ePub.
  2. You can link your Pottermore account to your Amazon account, and push the books right out to your Kindle.
  3. You can download the books multiple times.
  4. The audiobooks are in DRM-free MP3 format.

And some things I don’t:

  1. Their web site forms are screwy. On most fields, you can’t use copy & paste, for some insane reason.
  2. Every time you log in, you need to enter a CAPTCHA. I can understand needing to enter one to create an account, but on every login? Overkill.
  3. It’s easy enough to transfer a book over to your Amazon account, but there’s no (obvious) way to transfer all your books at once. You have to do them one at a time.
  4. Similarly, when downloading the books in ePub format, you need to download them one at a time, and it takes a few seconds to “prepare” the download. I’m guessing that it’s creating a watermarked ePub file on the fly there, but why can’t they just have a background process that does that right after purchase, so the files are ready right away?
  5. For the audiobooks, they show both the US (Jim Dale) and UK (Stephen Fry) versions, and even show a price if you select the UK version, but you can only buy the US version. (I was hopeful that I’d be able to buy the Stephen Fry versions.)

So, a few quibbles, but nothing that bothers me that much. I actually haven’t read any prose fiction at all yet this year, so I think I’m going to sit down with my Kindle and start into the first book. I haven’t re-read any of the Potter books since I first read them, with maybe one exception. I feel a little guilty that I’m going to re-read these relatively easy-to-read “YA” books, when I have plenty of unread “adult” novels lying around, but hey, they’re great books!