Monday, January 31, 2011

My Kindle is a Paperweight

Almost two years ago I wrote the article "A Better Kindle Still Isn't Great" where I identified, what was for me, the largest problem with the Kindle - DRM.  About 2 months ago I was given a Kindle as a gift and, now that I have one, I felt I should reevaluate my prior opinion and share it with you dear reader.

I was given the newest 3rd Generation Kindle with Wi-Fi.  (It does not include wireless 3G access but that is OK I'm rarely out of WiFi coverage).  It's a pretty simple little device and the screen is very nice.  In fact, the screen really caught me off guard it was so crisp and clear; it is much better than the 1st generation Kindle screen.  As an example, when I first opened the package there was a plastic overlay on the screen as a protector.  It appeared to have a drawing on it and an arrow pointing at the bottom of the device telling me where the power switch was.  I peeled off the plastic protector and the impressive grayscale artwork was still on the screen.  It truly looked like something that had been printed and not something being rendered by an electronic screen.

Once I finished marveling at the screen I decided I should download a book or two to try out on it.  However, I knew I didn't want to buy a book yet so I headed to Google Books and grabbed a copy of "The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin" and "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood."   Both books were DRM free but in the epub format which the Kindle doesn't support.  Thus I had to also grab a copy of Calibre - a free tool that will convert epub files into mobi files and thus make them compatible with the Kindle.  The conversion process was pretty quick and I was able to push them directly to the Kindle from within Calibre.  It was at this point that I began to have problems with ebooks.

Firstly the table of contents isn't necessarily useful from within each book and sometimes it just doesn't exist.  Whoever makes the ebook file has to link the stuff in the Table to the actual digital position within the book.  Page numbers no longer have meaning since the amount of text on each page can be changed on the fly by the user.  Thus, if you want to use your Kindle while in a reading group you may have trouble figuring out where everyone else is at.   Instead of page numbers the kindle books have "positions" and there are a ton of them in each book.  In fact, when you create a digital bookmark it bookmarks the nearest position.  It's pretty slick but it is also confusing especially when the table of contents doesn't really mention "positions".

Additionally, it is hard to figure out where best to hold the device.  The page turning buttons are fairly large on each side of the screen (a good thing in general) but there isn't much space on the device to put your fingers when holding the device where you won't be touching buttons.  I finally decided to let my fingers rest on the amazing fingerprint resistant screen.  However, because the device is so small and my hands are sort of large it is uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time.  On the flip side since there are no physical pages it is easy to just lay the device down and read it (such as when laying on your side in bed).

Neither of those problems, really, will stop me from using the device.  The size and convenience are both pretty awesome.  However, since the date I was given the Kindle I have bought twenty books and not one of them was in the ebook format and this is where the real problems with ebooks begin for me.

They are too expensive for what you get.  I purchased the entire Brotherhood of War series and the entire "The Corps" series by W.E.B. Griffin in mixed formats (paperback and hardback) as used books via Amazon.  They were all delivered for free and the total cost for all 19 books was apx $75.  Each of the books is actually available as Kindle ebooks, but, had I bought them the total cost would have been over $160.  Plus, when I'm done reading them I can give them to my Dad to read and he can then give them to one of my brothers who can pass them on to another of my brothers etc, etc, until we have each read them and then I can resell them on Amazon or Ebay and  probably get back about $20 per series of books.

With the ebook I can't lend the books really. Sure Amazon has started a lending program but it only lets me lend each book one time and the length of the loan is no more than 14 days.  Thus my Dad might finish some of them (assuming he commits some time to reading them during the 14 days and nothing comes up) but then none of my brothers could.  And, to make matters worse, I can't resell them and thus I can't recoup any of the purchase price.

Granted, at the moment I have a huge stack of books on my desk.  However, as I read them the pile is diminishing (and trickling through my family) and I have hopes of some more book money in the future when I sell these.  Meanwhile, my Kindle sits on an end table collecting dust.  I did finish reading "The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood" but I can't see myself buying any books for it until the price comes down and the DRM is removed.  Until then I'll use it to augment my library with classics that I haven't had the chance to read yet.   Moby Dick, here I come.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rogue Warrior

Badass. That's about the only way to describe Richard Marcinko a retired Navy Seal and founder of the most elite team of Seal, 6. Well, badass, reckless, and full of himself. However, I can forgive him his insanely high opinion of himself considering some of the stuff he accomplished during his long, but often troubled, military career.

When I was in the Army I really, really, wanted to join the Special Forces which is sort of like the Army's version of Seals. However, I didn't and that alone is a big difference between myself and Marcinko. When he wanted to do something in he went after it full bore and nothing would get in his way; including regulations and/or his chain of command. In fact, his utter disregard for his chain of command turned out to be his downfall.

This book was full of hoorah stories that really pumped me up and, quite honestly, inspired me to be a bit more kickass myself. Mr. Marcinko really does have something postive to teach everyone even if his approach to doing it may turn off many readers. He writes much as he talks; like a sailor so if rough language is a problem for you get over it. He worked in a world where death was a constant possibility; a few fucks scattered around really isn't too bad in comparision. No matter your background you should read this book simply to experience the raw power of a personality as strong as Marcinkos.

As bad ass as he came across he is also extremely selfish and, at times, deluded into thinking everything that happened to him, or his troops, was someone else's fault. First and foremost he was a horrendous husband. He sort of admits to it but at the same time he also doesn't seem to have any remorse for his overall neglect of his family. In fact, he seems proud of it. He also tended to act with his own sense of glory in mind rather than the welfare of his troops. Now, it may be that this is just a part of the SEAL psyche I can't understand; but, when his decisions as a leader led to his troops being in unnecessary and extreme harms way he just blames others for not supporting him. He never seems to realize it was his decision that put his boys up against 100 north Vietnamese on the night of the Tet Offensive for example. Instead he blames an incompetent and drunk Special Forces commander.

Marcinko does give good credit where it is due however and he frequently cites soldiers he served with who helped him or made him a better soldier. However, no matter how much those other guys tried to teach him there were some things, like tact, that Marcinko never learned; and it was this lack of tact; along with his disregard for the chain of command, that ultimately killed his career.

A prime example of his lack of tact comes late in the book when he is leading the super secret, bad ass team called Red Cell. These guys have what, to me, seems like the greatest job on earth. They are tasked with testing and breaking the security of naval installations around the world so that those bases can learn and improve. However, in his reports to the base commander's Marcinko doesn't care how he tells the commander that his post is screwed. Instead he just slams the guy regardless of the ego he is dealing with. I would think that in 30 years of naval service he would have learned he wasn't the only proud sailor around. I'm not saying that he should have softened his message but he certainly could have delivered them in a much more convincing manner. Instead he was an ass.

The ends may justify the means; but by delivering his message like a jerk he hurt not only himself but he undermined Red Cell's mission. Sure, the base's security flaws were illuminated but they certainly weren't addressed because the post commander had his feathers ruffled and he would turtle up and attack Marcinko instead of accepting the evaluation as a critique of the post and not of the commander. I don't know if I could have handled it any better but, considering the job he had, I certainly would have tried.

In the end Marcinko was still an excellent soldier who did his job, taking out the enemy, well and I'm going to try to take away some of his strengths from reading it. From now on, when I'm faced with a difficult obstacle that I think is too great to overcome, I might even ask myself, "What would Marcinko Do" - then I'll run through the damn thing and kick it's ass.

Even with all his failings and the books often awkward writing I enjoyed it and give it a 3.5 out of 5 star review.