Man rigs special Kindle controls for sister with cerebral palsy

I was going to write up a short post* about this, but I’m running out of time today and Nate at The Digital Reader just posted about it, too, so I’ll point you there instead. (His is also the only other post I can find that bothered to link to the actual source material.)

It’s a cool DIY approach to making a mass produced product more useful at the very personal level—although I kept wondering whether something like an iPad might be an easier route if you don’t have soldering or programming skills.

And yes, I realize this constitutes a “short post,” but I didn’t actually put much thought into it. No really, usually there’s some thought in the other ones, I swear!

[Via Teleread via Engadget via MAKE]
(Photo: eewestcoaster)

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John Hodgman has some great ideas for repurposing bookstores

This Daily Show segment where Jon Hodgman discusses Borders (it starts at the 7:57 mark) was aired nearly a week ago, but in my defense, Borders officially gave up the ghost nearly a month before that, so it’s not like this is breaking news. No, the reason I’m sharing it is because it’s good weekend fun—it parodies those “how bookstores can survive” articles, plus there are jokes about Internet shoppers, overly-specialized magazines, bookstore employees and book snobs, and humorless authors.

I especially like Hodgman’s second suggestion:

JON: So what — what is the alternative to this?

HODGMAN: Well, instead of hosting readings, why not host exciting live writings? Bring the author in, tie him to a desk, and make him write a novel to order. Customers can shout out their own ideas while pelting the writer with $4.00 scones. It’ll be fun! George R. R. Martin not finishing that new “Game of Thrones” book fast enough for you? Well maybe some hot chai latte down his neck will speed him up.

It reminds me of this bit from Monty Python about Thomas Hardy writing for a live audience:

But it also reminds me of Misery, which somehow is just not as funny:

In comedy, the right prop can mean everything.

If you don’t want to sit through Comedy Central’s ads or can’t stream it in your country, Jon Cog at has transcribed the Hodgman segment for your reading pleasure. I think he left out a joke about how Internet shoppers masturbate, but otherwise it’s pretty complete.


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A beta tester’s early review of Pottermore

Here’s an early take on what it’s like to visit Pottermore, written by a mom who loves the books and who has a daughter who loves them as well. Translation: it’s probably biased and incredibly positive.

“It will satisfy even the most voracious Harry Potter devotee, as well as engage new fans who’ve just discovered the books and/or movies. Even though we are vacationing in Hawaii and the beach beckons, Rachel and I spent hours going through each and every feature on the Web site. I felt almost as if we had somehow been transported inside the pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone itself.”

(The true sign of a book nerd—skipping the beach to stay indoors reading!)

I somehow managed to score an early invitation to Pottermore a couple of weeks ago when the Magic Quill contest was going on, which frankly amazes me because while I enjoyed the books I’m not really a fan. (I lucked out and happened to visit the site the day of the easiest question—the number of contestants in the Tri-Wizard Tournament—and then somehow got through to the registration page.) Sadly, though, I have yet to receive my activation code, because the site is letting us in in small waves over the next several weeks.

So as soon as I can get in, I’ll poke around, take screenshots, and report back. I’m fascinated by Rowling’s approach, because it takes so many of the elements that publishers are experimenting with in enhanced ebooks and places them next to the texts, instead of mixing them together. Series may have a built-in edge over single works of adult fiction, because of the rich and deep world that can develop over several volumes, so maybe this approach isn’t right for every book. But it will be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t, because I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Pottermore clones in the future. Personally, I’d love to see some sci-fi and fantasy authors try their hands at this sort of thing.

“The Magic of Pottermore” [Publishers Weekly]

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Say goodbye to Google Books Settlement for good

The heavily criticized proposed settlement between Google and a small group of authors and publishers has been dealt a final, fatal blow, reports Publishers Weekly this morning—although in this case the deathblow comes indirectly because it’s actually about a different, older legal battle.

In case you need a recap of what this is all about, the Google Books Amended Settlement Agreement (ASA) was a proposed agreement arranged by some publishers, authors, and author groups as a way to create a compensation and licensing system for Google Book Search, which uses the full text of copyrighted books to provide snippets in search results. Some authors and publishers claim that what Google is doing with Book Search amounts to widespread copyright infringement instead of fair use. For those authors and publishers who had sued Google, the proposed settlement would have protected them from the risk of losing on fair use grounds if the suit proceeded. More controversially, it would have also implemented an opt-out system (instead of opt-in) for authors, and an arbitration system that favored Google and publishers at the expense of authors’ rights. From a competition perspective, it would have also shielded Google from more lawsuits, while leaving competitors unprotected.

U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin rejected the ASA this past March, noting among other things that it went too far in giving Google special privileges (especially regarding orphaned works), and that the opt-out system was unfair to authors. While that pretty much left it dead in its current state, it also left the door open for Google and the plaintiffs to amend the agreement and try again.

But with yesterday’s rejection of a settlement in Freelance, it looks like there’s no possible way for the ASA to proceed.

Freelance is a class action case from the 90s (actually Tasini v. New York Times), and it involves freelance writers who claimed newspapers didn’t have permission to post their work online without compensation. Its relevance to the ASA is that in both lawsuits, the plaintiffs tried to create a single class out of all authors who might be affected by the issue, and yesterday’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals said that was more or less impossible:

In a 2-1 ruling, the second circuit yesterday held that the district court which approved a settlement between freelance writers and publishers in the class action case known shorthand as Freelance “abused its discretion in certifying the class and approving the Settlement, because the named plaintiffs failed to adequately represent the interests of all class members.”

In really plain language, essentially the judges who rejected Freelance‘s settlement yesterday acknowledged that getting all authors to agree to the same thing is like herding cats, and therefore you can’t put all authors in a single class and claim to represent their collective best interests. There may indeed be no such thing as “collective best interests” when it comes to authors.

So what happens next for Google Book Search? The plaintiffs could move forward with the suit, but it’s a considerable gamble because if they lose, then they’ll have inadvertently expanded the definition of fair use. Personally I think that’s great for society, but it’s not necessarily so great for publishers’ business models, hence their outrage at Google.

Another possible byproduct of the death of the ASA is that Google’s competitors can move forward with their own digitization projects. They’ll be assuming the same risk of lawsuits over copyright that Google is now facing, but at least they now know that Google isn’t about to carve out a special protected arrangement that will give it an unbeatable competitive edge.

(Photo: Aviruthia)

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How to make a Kindle case from an old book

I hadn’t intended to cut up the used book I bought online. But it turned out to be exactly the right size to house my Kindle, and it wasn’t in great shape to begin with, and my whole philosophy about digital publishing is that the physical container is not eternal and shouldn’t be treated with too much reverence… so it seemed like a perfect time to try to make my own retro Kindle case.

And I know this isn’t a new concept, but it’s the first time I tried it, so it was new to me.

I’ve uploaded some photos to Flickr as well, in case you’d rather skip the video and just see detailed beauty shots of my terrible sewing skills.

Flickr set:

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Like audiobooks? There’s a way to get $100 off a Kindle through Audible

Those $99 refurbished Kindles are nice, but if you want a really cheap Kindle, and you’re thinking about joining Audible, the best combo offer is one that isn’t that easy to find these days: sign up for a year of Audible Gold at $14.95 a month, and get a $100 code that you can use on any current Kindle device. The Audible Gold plan provides 1 credit per month, which is usually good for one audiobook download (every once in a while an audiobook will cost 2 or more credits).

I’ve checked out the fine print and I don’t see any hidden gotchas, other than that the $100 code has to be used within 90 days, and if you cancel your Audible membership after the first month, you’ll have to pay for the remainder of the 12-month membership. (You can cancel within the first month without incurring the penalty, but you’ll have to go ahead and pay $14.95 if you’ve already used your first credit, and you’ll have to give up the code of course.) You also have to be a new Audible member to take advantage of this offer, or at minimum you can’t have signed up within the past 24 months. I couldn’t find details on which countries are eligible for the offer, so you’ll have to contact Amazon or Audible to ask.

Frankly I agree with the online chatter that right now is probably a bad time to buy a new Kindle, since it’s likely that a newer model will be announced very soon. The Audible offer is good until the end of January 2012, but the fine print says the $100 code has to be used within 90 days of receiving it, so you might want to bookmark this page and come back once Amazon reveals pricing and availability on the next Kindle model.

Finally, let me make it clear that this isn’t an advertisement—no one is paying me anything and I won’t get any kickbacks. I’m writing about this deal because I think it’s a good one, if you already want to buy a Kindle and want to join Audible. (It was an easy choice for my mother, for example, since she loves audiobooks.) I’m also writing about it because I’ve noticed that even though the offer is valid until January 31, 2012, it’s all but disappeared from the Amazon site, at least for me. (I realize everyone sees a custom version of Amazon based on purchase patterns). So this is my attempt to publicize it a little more.

Update: Wow, I have a terrible memory. It looks like I wrote a very similar post (with almost the exact same headline!) eighteen months ago, when the offer was first announced. Ah well, it’s still a good deal…

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Amazon launches “Kindle Indie Books” section on Kindle Store

Yesterday, author Brendan Gannon noticed that Amazon rolled out a new section called “Kindle Indie Books” on the Kindle Store. It’s not another publishing imprint (I guess they couldn’t use the term “indie” otherwise), but rather a human- and machine-curated selection of popular indie and self-published titles. To get on the list, you have to have a book already published on the Kindle Store that’s selling well or is rated highly, according to Amazon’s FAQ.

If you’re a supporter of indie publishing and want an easier way to find new authors to try out, you might want to take a look.

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Today’s Bargain Book: “Even You Can Learn Statistics” by David Levine & David Stephan

"Even You Can Learn Statistics" by David Levine and David Stephan“Even You Can Learn Statistics” by David Levine & David Stephan

From news stories to political campaigns to health and science policy, the modern world is full of statistics. Unfortunately, they can be confusing, and they’re frequently misunderstood or even misrepresented. Here’s a free guide designed to explain the basics of statistics to the layperson.

From the product description: “One easy step at a time, this book will teach you the key statistical techniques you’ll need for finance, quality, marketing, the social sciences, or just about any other field. Each technique is introduced with a simple, jargon-free explanation, practical examples, and hands-on guidance.”

Price: $0.00
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