How to make an e-reader

Everybody’s raving (via Fimoculous, where I first typed most of this out) about the Kindle, and I do not doubt their sincerity. But neither Amazon nor Sony have quite figured out what they need to make. These devices are the Treo of five years ago — good enough to be loved, but about to be made irrelevant by the coming iPhone.

No matter how good the Kindle is, it is patently absurd to pay $2.50 per month to read Slate on it. And Bezos should be blushing at the contortions people go through to get PDF on their Kindles. The point here is that mostly what people want on an e-reader is not books — it’s the internet, stupid.

So, what do we want? Simple: a Kindle form factor with the guts of a Dell Mini, and a little sprinkle of iPod Touch. It goes roughly like this:

  • Intel Atom processor ARM processor, 16 GB internal storage, SD card slot
  • WiFi, vestigial keyboard
  • Ubuntu: just enough to run Firefox full-featured and an mp3 player
  • Color e-ink display (I’d settle for an LCD)
  • Touch-sensitive screen
  • What the hell: compatible with Amazon’s e-book format

The Kindle is $350, as is the new Sony reader (which has the touch-sensitive screen). The Dell Mini starts at $199. The 16GB iPod Touch is $300. Come on hardware makers, you can do this.

Update (4/13/09): TechCrunch is working on it.

Jonathan Lebed’s Extracurricular Activities

Oddly topical in light of the S.E.C.‘s recent and spectacular ball-droppage is Michael Lewis’ spectacular story Jonathan Lebed’s Extracurricular Activities, about the agency’s case against a 14-year old day trader. It’s the opener of The New Kings of Nonfiction. The editor, Ira Glass, raves about the story and plugs the book on this episode of The Sound of Young America, of which this to be via.

Malcolm Gladwell at the 92nd Street Y

Malcolm Gladwell gives a preview of his new book, Outliers. The book has been getting mixed reviews, but on the basis of this discussion I think I’m going to give it a whirl. (If you’re watching, you’ll want to skip to about the 5 minute mark, where the talk really begins.)

If you haven’t read much Gladwell, I’d of course recommend starting with The Tipping Point. See also the archive of his writings for the New Yorker and his infrequently updated blog.

Update: Oh look, the first chapter of Outliers is online.

A couple of David Foster Wallace links

It seems like I’ve done a million posts about David Foster Wallace, but Google says no. So, a couple of things: Interviewed by Dave Eggers, and the syllabus from the literary interpretation class he taught at the University of Arkansas.

Part of your grade for written work will have to do with your document’s presentation. “Presentation” has to do with evidence of care, of adult competence in written English, and of compassion for your reader. Your three major essays, in particular, must be proofread and edited for obvious typos and misspellings, basic errors in grammar/usage/punctuation, and so on. You are totally permitted to make neat handwritten corrections on your essays’ final versions before you hand them in. You are also welcome to contact me with questions about proofreading, grammar, usage, etc., as you’re working on revising and editing your essays. But papers that appear sloppy, semiliterate, or incoherent will be heavily penalized, and in severe cases you’ll be required to resubmit a sanitized version in order to receive any credit for the essay at all.

For DFW neophytes, I as always recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Consider the Lobster. For more DFW, see Rex’s postmortem link central.

An off-hand list of authors that David Foster Wallace mentioned admiring during an interview, which has been dominating my reading list recently

“Leyner and Vollman and Daitch, Amy Homes, Jon Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Rick Powers, even McInerney and Leavitt” (Source. BTW, I’m just finishing up my first Mark Leyner book, was somewhat disappointed with Amy Homes, and have become a big Franzen fan.)

The future of words (on the internet)

First, let’s look at some interesting recent, and not so recent, developments:

  1. Google History. Tracks everything you’ve searched for on Google, and which links you followed. Bear with me.
  2. Google Books. Allows you to search the text of most(?) books ever published. Amazon has a similar feature, and both are somewhat crippled while we get our uneasiness about copyright worked out.
  3. Good Reads. A pretty decent website that lets you track what books you’ve read. Has some unexpected advantages over just keeping a list.
  4. Action Stream/Activity Stream. A running tally of everything you’ve done on the internet (more or less), and by extension potentially everything you’ve read; maybe best explained by looking at an example, in the sidebar of Anil Dash’s blog. Here’s my stream, although as of right now it’s busted.
  5. Zoomii. A visual bookstore interface to Amazon. You zoom in/out, and click individual books for information, to order, or to flip through the book. (This is only tangentially related, but cool enough to include.) Looks like this (but you’ve really got to play with it):


So where’s this all headed? Well, one place I’d like to get to is a search box that works on everything I’ve ever read: books, magazine articles, and web pages. The web aspect should take no more then a little Firefox plugin that creates an index as you browse the web. The book thing would require some clever mashup of something like the Goodreads feed with the Google Books search. I’ll give you odds there’s already an engineer at the Googleplex working on it. The magazines are a little tougher, since not all the text is online yet. But lots of it is, so what you need is a service to track your magazine subscriptions/purchases along with some tricky database work. Maybe when Google’s done scanning the world’s books they’ll start in on the mags. Or maybe the publications themselves will create a system to allow this to happen.

The magazines are the trickiest aspect, but I hope this happens, because some great information is locked away in magazines (and I for one do not want to have all that paper laying around, since about 99% is still completely useless). I give it a year or two before some embryonic form of this exists, maybe five until the kinks are ironed out.