Kindle and Thoughts about Work

Mon Jul 18, 2011

So I got something in the mail a week ago.

A picture of a Kindle

Ok, not in the mail, UPS delivered it in their usual, careless manner, but I'm not talking about that right now.

There were a few alternatives I could have picked from, including the awesome looking Nook Simple Touch1, but I went with the closed option this time. I feel like a traitor already, subscribing to this stupid, proprietary, walled-garden of a device clearly meant as a leash to Amazon's book store.

There's a lot obviously wrong with it that's wrong with much of the closed software world. Things have been engineered properly, or at least as properly as they can be given the constraints, but actually using the device runs you up against some small yet annoying limits pretty quickly. That you can't get custom wallpapers or arrange your books into categories from your computer without jailbreaking. That there's no such thing as a standalone notepad app, and you can't build it because the Kindle SDK is in beta, and signing up requires you to submit an application proposal for review. That the browser usability isn't exactly stellar, but you can't really do anything about it because you don't have the source, or the ability to make it run client-side scripts.

The reason that made me purchase this, over any other ereader out there, is the free (as in beer) 3G wireless attached to it. This is a taste of the future for someone living in Canada (or, from what I hear, in most places outside of Japan and South Korea) and I wasn't about to wait the several years it's going to take for other device providers to get their shit together.

It's still not my ideal device2, but about as close as I can get with consumer-grade electronics at the moment. The biggest differences between it and the other devices I've tried variously3 are the size, battery life and global 3G. Small size is obviously an advantage, but this thing is ridiculously light; at about 9 ounces it's actually competing with my cellphone in terms of portability. As an aside, it's also rather sturdy. Not that I'd try playing catch with it or anything, but it's definitely not as fragile as the stuff coming out of Cupertino. The battery-life is hands down best among portables; between the ARM processor and e-ink screen, power consumption is low enough to give it "two months" between charges. Realistically, it's two weeks or so, but that's still a damn sight better than competition. Like I said, the 3G is the winner here; it lets me do things like check various entertaining reddits on my way home, or check my email. Technically, I could do this with my phone too, but the screen is tiny enough to make it annoying, and the battery life is flaky enough that I have to charge the thing every day if I want to do any semi-serious browsing on it.

That's it for my new toys (for now anyway).


Work-wise. Man, I dunno. Non-free development has some pretty serious drawbacks. Not the least of which is that you can't really talk about implementation specifics without an NDA, and that's annoying as all shit. I'm working on an implementation of an online proofing tool (which you can actually see running over here; don't talk to me about the name, that's all the marketing guys) built in Common Lisp. The work is a lot of fun, and I get to very slowly nudge my limits in terms of solid user interface development and flexible coding, but I can't actually show it to anyone. It's improving at the glacial pace necessitated by the fact that I'm the only coder on it full time, and the rest of the people looking at it don't really know Lisp very well. I'm hoping to turn that around soon; arguing with marketing and sales people about why we should put something out into the copyleft ecology is...difficult. I haven't tried mentioning "Free software" because these are guys that'll respond according Raymond's predictions of business people.

The way they see it, we can sell it if we own it, and damn the consequences. Granted, the pool of programmers available for a Common Lisp web project is kind of narrow, but we could really do some good here, I get the feeling. Both in the sense that having such a project might make it easier to identify the next few people we want to hire (and we will at some point), and in the sense that opening it up will make it a better, more widely used product. And in the sense that free use of our tool would likely benefit the users. And, perhaps most significantly, I'll be able to put snippets up here or at codereview.SE without worrying about the people helping me getting sued at some undetermined point in the future.

Not much of a segway there, granted, but I'm starting to get pissed off. I have seven or eight different blog posts floating around in my head, half finished and in the process of construction, so I had to get something out here, even if it's not polished. There are differing opinions about how you should write, and I tend to hold with the brain crack angle. Seven ideas in the air and none on a hard drive sounds like I'm going too far in the perpetual-polishing direction.

  1. Which is a real, no-fooling, rootable Android device with an e-ink touchscreen, a micro-SD card reader, and a month-long battery life.
  2. That would be a color unit whose screen projects directly onto my retinas, has removable media/USB slots and connects directly to my thenarm, hypothenarm, interossei and lumbrical muscles for input.
  3. The i-family, laptops and netbooks.

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