A look inside the New York Public Library

NewYorkPublicLibraryLogoI'm a New Yorker at heart, even though I haven't lived in New York for several years. When I conjure up an image of a public library the image I see is the New York Public Library's main branch with the iconic lion statues out front.

That's why I enjoyed reading Charles Petersen's two part (part 1, part 2) story about how the NYPL is attempting to transform itself to meet the new needs of their patrons. It is such a huge organization, and many people assume the library is dedicated to one thing: books. Nope. Any library you visit isn't just a collection of books, but rather a repository of information staffed with people who make it their life's work to help you sort through it all.

Anyway, you shouldn't be wasting time reading this when the first part of Charles' great article is waiting for you.


Don't be guilty at the library

Library Cards

People pirating books piss me off, but I love the library (in fact I was just at the Free Library of Philadelphia yesterday (proof) where I checked out three books). Sometimes I do wonder, though, if I should buy a book to support an author I like instead of making use of the library. The problem is, if no one goes to the library then in these days of budget cuts the library closes (heck, even though library usage is up some libraries are closed!).

Luckily N.K. Jemisin, author of the wonderful Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was discussed on an episode of The Incomparable, assuages my guilt thusly:

It really, really, really helps me to be in libraries. Not all traditionally-published books get that privilege; most self-published books certainly don’t. So if you’re feeling at all guilty over checking my stuff out from your local library — don’t. Consider: you’re helping to keep me on their “buy” lists, especially in these days of rampant budget cuts, which means several hundred (if not thousand) additional sales for me.

Piers Anthony on using a tablet

I'm a tech guy, but I really try and emulate the mindset of a non-technical person when I'm writing, since they are my audience. That's why I find this quick review of a Polaroid Android tablet from Piers Anthony's Newsletter so fascinating. Piers, a successful and prolific author, isn't technical at all but his wife bought a $100 tablet. He's using it now and likes it, but you can just read this thoughts yourself:

My Sony Reader expired just as I was about to read the foregoing novel. That gave my wife a pretext to shop for something she had had her eye on, and we got a Polaroid Android Tablet Computer on sale for a hundred dollars. As I like to put it, I'm an old codger from another century, and slow to catch on to newfangled dinguses, but I rather like this one. Its Adobe Reader handled the .pdf manuscript, oriented the page to be upright regardless of my orientation; sometimes as I let the device tilt the page would spin around to re-orient. I can show the pages as they are, in assorted type sizes, or have them reformat and wrap to remain always on the page. The print is beautiful, easy to read. But I am unable to jump to my place in the book, or to return directly to the beginning when I complete it. So I had to page backward through the 373 page manuscript, one page at a time. This gets old fast. It does hold my place if I keep it in ready mode, but loses it if I turn it all the way off to save power. It will play songs, and I can read with musical background; it seems to have a fair roster of popular songs to start with, and we added more. But it can be a federal case to make it stop playing, and we have not found out how to make it play our added songs. It acknowledges their presence, lists them, but won't actually play them, instead playing only its own songs; it seems to think they are on the Internet. Would it be too much to ask that you be able to play a listed song by clicking on it? Or that there be an On/Off switch? If there is a Hell for programmers, it may have an On/Off switch for the tortures they undergo—that doesn't work. It will handle WiFi, but as yet I have not caught up with that 21st century stuff. So it's a novel experience, and I like it despite its frustrations.

I don't know what I would use a tablet for if I didn't have Wi-Fi.


Joe Weisenthal vs. the 24-Hour News Cycle - NYTimes.com

I love writing, but this profile of a financial blogger just sounds awful. Working all day in the text mines, looking for Fool's Gold:

Some of what he writes is air and sugar. Some of it is wrong or incomplete or misleading. But he delivers jolts of sharp, original insight often enough to hold the attention of a high-powered audience that includes economists like The Times columnist Paul Krugman and Wall Street heavies like the hedge-fund manager Douglas Kass and the bond investor Jeff Gundlach.

Dreaming of a better Kindle Fire - TechHive Beta Blog

It is no secret that I'm a fan of Amazon, and of their Kindles more specifically. It is often assumed, for one reason or another, that if you like a company that means you can't be critical of anything that company does. This is probably most commonly seen amongst Apple aficionados (and I think that some of the Apple press do give the company a pretty wide berth on many, many issues) but the same can be said for any company.

Just because I like the Kindle Fire (I wrote a bestselling book about it too which you should totally buy) doesn't mean the product can't stand some improvement. My internet pal, and yours, Jason Snell makes some great points on Techhive:

The Kindle Fire is definitely a first effort. I’m reminded of the original Kindle, which was intriguing and yet horribly flawed. After a couple of iterations, Amazon got the Kindle in shape. It can do the same with the Kindle Fire, especially if it emphasizes its two strongest points: a small size and a low price. With some tweaks to the hardware (volume buttons!) and continued software refinements, including better support for multiple Amazon accounts, the Kindle Fire’s future can still be bright.

The Kindle Fire's biggest flaw, if you ask me, involves physical buttons but I don't miss the volume buttons as much as Jason does. The location of the power button, however, is just plain dumb. I long for a sliding button like Amazon had on the second and third generation e-ink Kindles (though the 4th gen Kindles switched to a normal pushy button, which I am not a fan of). Turning on/off or putting a device to sleep shouldn't be something you can do accidentally.


Hugo Awards 2012

Hugos2012covers

Ever since the Hugo Award nominees for 2012 were announced I can't tell you how many people have asked my opinion about them. Ok, I can tell you: zero. However, I won't let a silly number like that stop me from sharing with you, my Internet friends.

This is one of the first years I've read a majority of the Hugo nominated novels before they were announced (3 out of the 5 beforehand) mostly because of my participation in the Incomparable book club (listen to the episode where we discuss 2011's nominated novels). Since the nominations have been announced I've managed to read the other two novels (I owned one and the library provided the other).

Now, last year I read almost all of the nominated novels, with the exception of Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear (two novels that were considered as one for some reason). I bet my hat that The Dervish House was destined to win since it was the best novel I had read in a long time (I was also fairly certain that Feed's inclusion was some sort of clerical error).

I tell you all of this so you can get a feel for my track record. Last year not only did Connie Willis walk away with the award (she's a great writer, and since I haven't read her novels as of yet I can't say with certainty that The Dervish House was a better book, but I'm pretty sure it was) but Feed, which I hated, managed to garner more votes than The Dervish House.

That ain't right folks.

With all of that in mind, here are my thoughts about the nominated novels this year (here's the full list of Hugo nominees this year):


  • Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor): This year's The Dervish House. A great book that is basically about a young girl who loves reading and happens to see fairies. Jo Walton is an amazingly talented writer and if she doesn't win the Hugo this year I'll think the thing has been fixed. The only problem I see with Among Others' chances is that while the book is about science fiction (check out this Pinterest board that lists all the novels mentioned) it's really a fantasy book. Sure, some fantasy novels have won but the Hugo is, at the core, a science fiction award. Plus, I want it to win and that is the kiss of death for any nominated novel.

  • A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra): Here's the deal, this book is fine. It isn't the best installment of the series, but it is satisfying for those who keep plugging along with the books. If you were to start reading The Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a The Game of Thrones) series with this book you'd have no idea what the hell was going on, and I doubt you would care. That being said Mr. Martin has two things going for him this year: The Game of Thrones is a legitimate cultural phenomenon. It has emerged from the ghetto of genre and has been embraced by the mainstream (I was at a birthday party for twin toddlers the other and one of the parents of an attending child told me her mother has read the whole series). That's some powerful stuff. Second: Martin has been nominated 4 times before in this category (3 out of those 4 times for previous installments in the Song of Ice and Fire) and he hasn't won once. The voters might decide it is time for George to get the award based not on this novel, but on the series as a whole thus far. I won't be too upset if George wins, but it'll be a shame since Jo Walton deserves the little rocket ship.

  • Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit): This was the last novel on the list I read (I just finished it a few hours ago) because I hated (really hated) the previous book in this series, Feed. Deadline is slightly better than Feed, but it is still a bad book. I honestly have no idea how Deadline ended up on the ballot, but clearly lots of people are into it. I found the first 100 pages to be awful, the rest of the book is just meh, and the "surprise" ending is both incredibly predictable and really undercuts a very powerful part of the first book.

  • Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey): Oh, China Miéville. He's an inventive writer, and Embassytown is a fantastic novel (in that it is full of flights of fancy). I thought it a very interesting rumination on the nature of truth and language, but as a novel it was a little thin. The writing is spectacular, but the plot is pretty run of the mill. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to other fans of China Miéville, but I don't think it should take the prize this year.

  • Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit): Funny thing about this book, which I read after it was nominated: I bought it many months ago and attempted to start reading it over the summer but stopped after the first 10 or so pages. Oddly, the big twist that makes you want to keep reading happens about 15 pages in, so I really should have stuck it out on the first go-a-round. This is the most traditional science fiction novel of the bunch, and it is a fun read. I'm a little puzzled as to why it was nominated since I don't think it does much to expand the genre but sometimes a novel just needs to be a good read and Leviathan Wakes certainly has that in spades (and I love the minor plot point involving Mormons).


Generally, I'm a novel kind of guy but John Scalzi rounded up links to all the nominated short stories this year so I decided to read them. They are all worth your time to read, especially since you can read them for free, but there was one that really stood out to me.

Here are my thoughts, and my pick:


  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld): This lovely, and beautifully written, story about some warmongering wasps expanding their empire gets my vote. Great writing which feels like it belongs in a literary fiction magazine which might turn some people off but worked for me. I choose not to linger on the fact that Yu is a recent college graduate (damned talented young people) and won't let that make me spiral into a depression about my own (nonexistent) fiction output.

  • “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s): A great story about a young man visiting his ailing mother and estranged father and experiencing that wonderful tension that you get when visiting parents. Oh, and the son has voluntarily had his consciousness transplanted into an alien body which complicates things just a bit.

  • “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s): This one didn't do too much for me, though I can see how other folks would really like it. The main character is a autistic girl who only becomes truly functional when she is dancing.

  • “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction): This story came in a close second for me, just edged out by those darned cartographer wasps! A story about cultural assimilation, a parent's unconditional love, and how awful kids can be without even knowing it. Add in some animated paper animals and a wonderful story is born. How can you go wrong?

  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com): This is a parody of fantasy novels, and it is funny though I have a hard time believing there wasn't another non-jokey short story out there that could have been nominated. That said, it is fun.


eBook covers

3 Kindles walk into a bar...

This article on The Atlantic and Chip Kidd's TED Talk about the importance of book covers got me to thinking about, of all things, eReaders.

Specifically the fact that every eReader I've used (and I've used many) displays some sort of image when it is "sleeping." Amazon even sells Kindles that show ads when the device isn't being used.

Why not display the cover of the book currently being read on the device when it is sleeping? I love book covers, and I miss seeing them when I'm reading something, so why display them?

This would have to be an optional setting, though, because one of the great things about eReaders is that you can read super trashy novels in public and no one ever knows (not that I would do such a thing).


Write about books

Hey there Blankbaby readers (reader?), I have a question for you. I've been doing lots of reading the last couple years (20 books so far this year) and not so much blogging (obviously).

To rectify this situation (and attempt to make some sweet, sweet Amazon affiliate money) I'm going to write about the books I'm reading. The question is: should I do that here on Blankbaby or on the reading blog I started long ago called Scott's Reading List (which you probably didn't even know about)?

Sound off in the comments!

Also, how do you like the snazzy new design? Pretty sweet, huh?


iPad 3 review

People who say they iPad doesn't get uncomfortably hot are living in denial.

via hello.typepad.com

I've had a simliar experience with my iPad 3 so far. The heat isn't really an issue, but it is noticable. Perhaps some units have some misappiled thermal paste or something (I don't even know if there is any thermal paste on the processor in the iPad, that's just a complete guess).

Anyway, I like my iPad 3 but I still like my Mac (and Kindle) more.


10 Cool Things You Can Do with Your Kindle Fire

My dear, dear publisher, Peachpit, asked me if I would be interested in writing an article for their website about the Kindle Fire. I, of course, was interested and wrote 10 Cool Things You Can Do with Your Kindle Fire:

Did you know that you can email documents, load your own content, and sideload apps with the Kindle Fire? Scott McNulty, author of The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide, offers a list of ten cool things he loves about the Kindle Fire.

Go ahead and read it, dude!


The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide is now available

Hey cats and kittens, the day you've been waiting for is upon us (well, it actually happened yesterday but I was busy taking the day off): my latest book, The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide, is officially available for sale in hardcopy!

To celebrate I thought I would give away some copies of the book to Blankbaby readers/followers. I have 15 copies of the book to give away, so leave a comment on this post by January 24th to enter. If more than 15 people comment then I will randomly select the winner, and if less than 15 people comment everyone wins (if exactly 15 people comment the universe will implode).

The book covers the basics from using the web browser, buying media from Amazon, and more advanced topics like side loading apps and filling your Kindle Fire up with non-Amazon purchased content (you can do it!).

All that I ask from the handsome/lovely people who win a copy is that you leave a review on Amazon after you've read the book. Just share how you felt about the book: good or bad (though I think this book will be a boon to any Fire owner).


It is really hard to feel bad for a billionaire

But George Lucas strikes me as a little sad in this great NY Times article about his retirement (of his own choosing). For example:

“Why would I make any more,” Lucas says of the “Star Wars” movies, “when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”

I know people give Lucas crap for endless fiddling with his movies, but I admire him for sticking to his vision (good or bad) and self-funding it.

Good on ya, George!


Steve Ballmer, straight shooter

I can't imagine anyone at Apple saying something similar in any circumstances, but Steve Ballmer cuts to the point: "At present, Microsoft has 14 retail stores and plans to open up to 75 more over the next three years, usually placing them as close as possible to Apple outlets. “Well, the traffic is going to be there, and we’ve got to beat them anyway,” Ballmer says with a shrug."


I want to be a super-villian

I've always wanted to live either in a lighthouse or a former missile silo. Scouting NY (one of my favorite blogs) checks out a missile silo home.

Neat, huh? I think so, though it is probably for the best if I don't spend too much time thinking about why living in such remote/extreme locations appeal to me (but I would totally turn the missile silo into a huge library. How awesome would that be?).


The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide

Kindlefirepocket 1Have you been wondering what I've been up to these last few months? Shockingly, I've been writing a book. Actually, most of the book was written during a 3 week span in November with editing and tweaking done the following weeks. All that work by myself, and the fine folks at PeachPit, translates into The Kindle Fire Pocket Guide (available in paperback
[out January 22nd, but you can pre-order now] or Kindle
[You can buy it now! Heck, you can even buy it before you get your Kindle Fire from Amazon and it'll be waiting for you when you turn on your Fire]. If Barnes and Noble is your thang you can pre-order it there too.).

I think this book turned out very well, and I hope folks who purchase it find it useful.


The "war on religion"


I'm not a political guy, but Rick Perry's latest campaign ad has really got my dander up (who knew I had dander?).

I've embedded it above, but I'll post the transcript here (taken from here):

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.

I had no idea that the President (a self identified Christian) was waging a war on religion, but I figured he must have some help from the folks in Congress. What with the whole design of our government and all being set up with a system of checks and balances to prevent a crazy president from doing something like waging a war on religion.

That got me thinking, I wonder what the religions of all the people in the Congress and Senate are. Surely, given our country's continuing war on religion, both Houses must be populated with hateful non-believers.

I was shocked to find out that atheists had invaded Congress! Well, atheist. That's right, one congressmen identified himself as an atheist (Pete Stark, who is a Democrat from California… so maybe he doesn't count).

Two other members of Congress don't list an affiliation, so I suppose that could mean they're atheists but they won't come out and say it.

That leaves 432 members of Congress who self identify as being a member of one religion or another (see the full list here).

Damn those religious representatives! Maybe the war on religion is being waged in the Senate. According to Wikipedia 2 members of Senate don't list their religions. That leaves 98 who are members of one religion or another (85 Senators are some flavor of Christian).

It would seem that war on religion is failing.

I'm an atheist myself, but I'm all for protecting the rights of others to practice whatever religion they want. Who cares, as long as you aren't hurting anyone (which is how I feel about a person's sexuality as well) and you don't try too hard to convert me. I wonder if Rick Perry would be as supportive of my rights as an atheist to not say "under God" during the Pledge of Allegiance (not that I often recite the Pledge of Allegiance, though when I was growing up I said it in school every day after prayers. Yep, I went to 13 years of Catholic school).

So, to my Christian friends who must hide your religions away in the many churches, Christian charity organizations, and many Christmas displays and celebrations I offer my support. Though you are represented by an overwhelming majority in the House and Senate, I am sure it is tough. I hope you aren't suffering too much for your religion.


The Kindle Fire

Amazon's latest gadget, the Kindle Fire, and the mixed reaction from tech bloggers (Andy likes it, Glenn likes it, David not so much, Josh kind of liked it, and Marco and Ben both hated it… really hated it) got me thinking about my struggles with weight loss.

I'm a fat guy. I used to be fatter. I used to be thinner. At the moment I'm trying to get back to that thinner place. One thing I've been doing to achieve this is cutting carbs almost entirely out of my diet.

One of my favorite low carb dishes is often called Kindlefirefauxtatoes: pureed cauliflower with some stock and cheese mixed it. While it does kind of look like mashed potatoes, if you eat a pile of pureed cauliflower expecting it to taste like mashed potatoes you're going to be disappointed. There's no way around it, even though pureed cauliflower is just as tasty as mashed potatoes (honestly, it is really good).

They look a like on the surface, but they are very different vegetables.

That's the way I think of the Kindle Fire vs. the iPad. If you look at it as an iPad the Fire just doesn't measure up. If you think of it as a fancy Kindle (which is what Marisa calls it) well it is pretty damned fantastic.

What do I think of it? I really like it. I haven't seen any of the super slow response times others complained about. When I tap on things they respond. Video is great on it.

I love, as always, that when I enter my Amazon account info into the Fire all my stuff is just there. It streams my 17,000 songs on my Cloud Drive without a problem, and books and magazines are fine on it (though I still hate reading on a backlit screen, which is why I also bought the Kindle Touch and the Kindle… though Marisa is getting one of those to replace her Kindle 3). The app selection isn't great, but honestly the Fire isn't about apps it is about buying and consuming stuff from Amazon.

I should mention that I am writing a book about the Kindle Fire (pre-order it now!) so take from that what you will.


Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

Steve

Oddly enough, I don't think I would be married to Marisa if it hadn't been for Steve Jobs.

Allow me to explain: the first time Marisa and I ever hung out for more than a few minutes alone with one another was when I helped her diagnosis an iBook with a failing hard drive. I spent hours sitting at the dining room table (which is now our dining room table) running diagnostics and what have you. That is where our friend began, over that piece of silicon and plastic which wouldn't have existed without Steve. Over time (ok, a long time) our friendship deepened into love and eventually we figured out that we should be together.

Thanks for that, Steve.

I don't really have anything profound to say about his death, other than 56 is too young for anyone to die: world changer or not.