I’ve just finished reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a seminal work that merges true-crime journalism with literature.  If you haven’t read it, or another book like it (I recommend Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), then it’s an interesting style that I highly recommend.

First, as always, I need to mention how I’m in no way qualified to comment on a book like this.  You have to assume that significant underlying themes go unnoticed by me.  But, nevertheless, I feel like writing these pieces helps me to better understand what I’ve just read.  You’re job, as the reader, is to catch me on mistakes and suggest your own interpretations.

That being said, I want to first draw attention to the nuanced narrative Capote created.  The level of detail present is staggering.  He knew the town of Holcomb and its inhabitants so well he was able to draw in everyday occurrences as significant thematic devices.

For instance, towards the end of the book, Perry Smith found himself gazing out the barred window of his cell while enduring his trial.  Capote created an image of two tomcats roaming the town, plucking dead birds from the grills of cars.  The metaphor was unmistakable: two free cats, surviving by their wits to scrape by, street savvy but unable to better themselves.  Just like Perry and his compatriot Dick Hickock.

There was an outright sadness throughout the end of the book.  When desperation gave in to acceptance of the inevitable on the part of Perry, you can’t help by question your assumptions of his actions and the events that led up to his incarceration.  Which, of course, was part of Truman’s goal: to show the aftermath of the heinous crime on both the town and the killers themselves.

There’s a lot more to say about In Cold Blood, but I’ll stop here for now.  I read through the entire book in about 3 days – an exceedingly short time for me.  But it was a book I found I couldn’t put down.  It created a different level of suspense: not one of “what’s about to happen next”, but one of “I don’t want to know what happens next, but I must”.  Very interesting.

This is the third and final part of a three-part series I’ve put together on my personal experiences with the Nook (see the first and second ones).  Having used the Nook for quite a few hours of pleasurable reading, I’m a fan of the device.  It has quite a few rough edges and missing content, but it’s generally a good device for reading eBooks.  But what about the basics, like battery life, accessories, etc?

Battery Life
The battery life of the Nook isn’t superb.  I tend to leave the device in Airplane mode all the time to conserve energy (which, unfortunately, means I’m unable to get updated information in The Daily).  With it in Airplane mode, I usually get about 4 days of battery life when using it heavily.

I’m struggling to put this into context.  In terms of hours, it’s probably about 10-12, which is probably enough time to read a paperback book, or close to it.  This isn’t scientific by any means, just my own observation that could be wildly off.

I was a little off-put by how quickly the battery drains, but it’s not a major inconvenience.  I have to charge my iPhone on a daily basis, so every few days for the Nook isn’t a problem.

Barnes and Noble Hotspots
One interesting feature of the Nook is the ability to take the device to a Barnes and Noble retail store for special features.  For instance, taking it to a store allows you to see special in-store coupons, read any book available for free (while you’re there), and even get a free cookie at the Cafe.

So I brought the Nook to a local B&N store.  Unfortunately, I had quite a few problems.  While inside the store, I turned on the device and a B&N logo appeared in the top-right, where the WiFi indicator would normally appear.  However, I couldn’t figure out how to access the B&N section!

I actually went to the Nook kiosk in the store and asked for help from the saleswoman there.  Although she was very pleasant, she was also very confused: we couldn’t figure out why weren’t able to see the B&N exclusives on the device!  On the store’s device, the B&N exclusives section pops right up, but not on my device!

I’ll give it another shot sometime in the future, but for now I was a little disappointed about that.

Covers
Although not a super important issue to consider, some people do find it interesting what covers are available for the device.  When I was in the B&N store recently (with the B&N Hotspot issue), I picked up a case that I actually rather like.  It’s a fold-over faux leather case that makes it look quite elegant.  It has a saying on the front that I’m not particularly in love with, but I do like the cover.

The Nook has quite a few covers available, though not many in the stores themselves.  Some of them are actually quite expensive too.  But you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a decent cover.

Last Thoughts
On the whole, the Nook is a solid device.  Battery life is so-so, and there was a snafu I had with the B&N Hotspot, but I’m sure that will get worked out (if it hasn’t already).  Perhaps the store was having hiccups with it’s Hotspot device, or perhaps my Nook just wasn’t cooperating that day.  The next time I go to a B&N store I’ll give it another try and see what happens.

Just saw this notice from Business Week about Yelp taking in $100 mil in financing:

Yelp, a Web site that features reviews of local businesses, said it has received as much as $100 million in funding from private equity firm Elevation Partners and will use the investment to expand its sales force and compensate employees.

In the near future I intend to spend some time talking about how much I dislike Yelp: the concept, the culture it’s created among users, and the adversarial relationship between small business owners and attention-seeking individuals.

On my way to work, in between phone calls, I caught a short piece of an NPR segment discussing the health care debate in light of tonight’s State of the Union address.  A commentator was explaining how the role of government was to redistribute wealth, and the government doesn’t generate wealth.

I’ve heard this argument before, and barely noticed until another commentator (providing a counterpoint) explained that he saw the government’s projects as being largely about investment, not simply wealth redistribution.

As an example, he used a highway construction project: building the highway was a capital expenditure that required tax dollars to complete (the wealth redistribution part, as those tax dollars went into the pockets of contractors and road crews), but was also an investment.  By building the highway, interstate commerce could improve, leading to a stronger economy, lower unemployment, higher GDP, etc.

The government is in the business of investments … in the country itself, rather than in a strictly monetary sense.  For instance, a traditional investment in a bond might yield a certain return thats (somewhat) predictable and in the same format of the initial investment (cash).  But a government investment often converts cash into another form of wealth: a stronger economy, etc.

It’s an interesting concept and one that requires a change in thinking of a government’s role.  Wealth redistribution seems like a fairly myopic view of a very complex institution.

I was recently in a Lego retail store and noticed a collection of Lego products under the banner Lego Architecture.  Intrigued, I noticed several models, especially the Seattle Space Needle and the Guggenheim Museum.  I bought the Space Needle (mainly because it was the least expensive, at $20).

I built the model and it’s now sitting on my desk at work.  I figured I’d write down my impressions.

First, I’m very excited by the idea of an Architecture series.  I love Legos and I especially like the idea of creating a set specifically designed for an older generation.  Part of the problem with Lego sets is that they’re so geared towards children that it makes it difficult for older people (like myself) to seriously take part.  Even though I very much want to.

Second, I was a little disappointed with the Space Needle model.  It looks fantastic (albeit very simplistic), but the price seems way out of proportion.  At $20, it’s difficult to justify having put it together.  Further, one of the key elements of the Space Needle itself is the revolving observation deck.  The Lego representation, unfortunately, doesn’t spin.

I love the idea of Lego putting out more Architecture series models.  I’m definitely going to consider buying the Fallingwater model, and I’ll be watching for other models to come out in the future.  The Space Needle was a bit of a disappointment primarily because of the price.  But if paying a premium means Lego will continue with the series and continue to experiment by creating products designed for older builders, then I’ll consider it a big success.

This is the second part of a three-part series I’ve put together on my personal experiences with the Nook (see the first one).  The most critical component to the Nook is what content is available.  I bought the device for its ecosystem: I want to be able to find and buy eBooks, newspapers, and magazines instantly, and I don’t want to deal with anything else (like file formats, sync’ing with my computer, etc).  In general, the Nook does this very well.

BN eBook store missing some titles
There have been a handful of books that I’ve been interested in reading on my device that aren’t available in the B&N store.  Some books just aren’t in eBook format, but there have been a handful that appear in Amazon and not B&N.  Here’s a short list of ones I’ve noticed:

I don’t know if I can buy an eBook from the Amazon store and read it on my Nook.  I suspect I can, because the Nook supposedly can read many different eBook formats, but I haven’t tried it yet.  If anyone has tried it, let me know.

Good selection of newspapers
The main newspaper I’m interested in is the Wall Street Journal.  It’s on there, and I really like the price point of $0.99 an issue.  This suites me just fine.  On a Sunday morning, I can grab a cup of coffee and a muffin and sit at my kitchen table reading the paper.  I don’t want a subscription to the paper as I don’t have time to read anything but the occasional weekend issue.

There are a handful of popular papers on there, including the Washington Post, but it’s a little disappointing that the NY Times isn’t.

The Magazines selection is woefully small
The most glaring content issue is the lack of magazines.  I’m glad to see The Economist and The New Yorker, but that’s about it.  Where are the general interest magazines, like Time, Newsweek, or my favorite, BusinessWeek?  If B&N puts BusinessWeek on there, I’ll cancel my paper subscription and switch over.

B&N needs to really beef up their magazine selection.  Right now, there’s zero in there for the average reader, and even I’m not particularly interested in the titles.

The Daily needs better content
There are two regular columns that appear in The Daily from B&N sources: Daybook and Grin and Tonic.  Daybook is similar to a “This Day in History”, and includes some interesting historical tidbits that I enjoy.  However, Grin and Tonic is a dud.  It’s had a few humorous creates, but on the whole, it’s not terribly interesting.

Personally, I’d like to see a selection of columns or blog posts made available for user selection.  I love the idea of The Daily, where there’s new content available to read, but right now it’s not terribly interesting.

Content is King
On the whole, there are a lot of eBooks available for the Nook in the B&N store that are sure to keep you occupied for quite a while.  However, if you’re like me and want a wide selection of content from various mediums, then you’ll be a bit disappointed.  B&N needs to remember that the Nook’s power is in its ecosystem, and it should do what it can to beef that ecosystem up by getting as much content as possible to the device.

Recently I was asked “What are your passions?”.  That’s an incredibly difficult question for me.  Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones and have a snap answer ready, but for me, I’m having difficulty.

You can take the question literally: what topics get your blood boiling?  For me, there aren’t many.  I’m a fairly level person, and I don’t get worked up about many things.  When I was younger I told myself life was too short to get bent out of shape over politics or other things, and I can’t think of any topics that would get me fired up right now.

On the other hand, you could take it as a euphemism for hobbies: how do you spend your time?  Well, for me that’s tricky too.  I spend a lot of my time working, though I’m beyond having passionate feelings about it (I used to get seriously worked up about my business, but, again, I made a conscious effort to keep myself calm).  As an entrepreneur, I probably should be more passionate about my business, but to me, that seems like a distraction.

What about hobbies?  Well, my hobby is now my job, so it’s hard to mark that down as a hobby any more.  At the same time, there are activities I do outside of my job, though nothing of much interest (for instance, I occasionally play video games or read books).

I’m defined as a passing-interest kind of person.  I’ll get very deep into an activity for a while, then move on to something else.  For a while, it might be video games.  Right now it’s reading books.  In the past it was building a stock-market prediction system.  In the future, who knows?  Maybe rocket ships or dinosaurs.

Frankly, I consider it a virtue to be dispassionate.  Getting emotionally attached to something destroys objectivity and can be harmful in the long-term.  Sure, being passionate can be helpful in the short-term (for instance, it motivates startup engineers to work 18 hour days), but at the expense of the big picture.

So how do I answer this question?  I’m still not sure.  Perhaps I need to find myself a new hobby (one that sticks for a long time) that I can use as an answer.  Or, perhaps I need to lower the bar: I used to play the guitar a lot in high school and college, but haven’t much in the last few years).  How do you answer this question?

Yep, I’ve got a Nook.  I actually got it late December, about a week earlier than I was expecting after placing a pre-order around Thanksgiving.  I’ve talked about the Nook on this blog before, but I haven’t had a chance to really get into detail on it, and I thought I would now.

For part one of this little series, I thought I’d focus on the core functionality of the device: reading books.  In later parts, I’ll discuss other usages and my experiences.

So, how is it at reading books?  The short of it: it’s very good, though not quite perfect.  If you’ve never used an eInk display, then you need to give it a serious try.  Whether it’s the Kindle or the Sony reader, the display technology is the same.  And it’s great for long periods of reading.  Since getting the nook, I’ve spent quite a few hours using it to read (just yesterday I spent the good part of the day reading Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which I highly recommend).

Comparing an eInk display to a computer screen or the iPhone is like comparing apples to oranges.  The eInk technology is specifically designed for reading books, and it allows you to look at the screen for hours at a time without any problem.  If reading text on your computer screen or mobile device causes problems, then eInk is your solution.

That being said, the underlying parts of the Nook at what makes the difference, and unfortunately the device has a few rough edges:

Missing text in a chapter
At this point, I’ve read three books, several newspapers, and a handful of samples on my Nook and in all but one case it has been flawless.  However, just the other day, while reading a chapter of Ghost wars, a section was cutoff:

The very last page of Chapter 16 had the following paragraph:

Robin Raphel and others at the State Department and the White House believed that for American oil companies, too, the Taliban could be an important part of a new Afghan solution.

On the iPhone and the Barnes and Noble reader for the Mac, this paragraph came through fine.  However, on my Nook, only the first line of the paragraph was displayed:

Robin Raphel and others at the State Department and the

Flipping the page brought me to the first page of chapter 17!  Flipping back didn’t show the remaining text either!  Luckily I was able to find the remainder on my iPhone, but that’s very frustrating.  I suspect it’s something with the formatting (the Nook lets you change the size and font of the text being displayed) and perhaps a bug made the device think the entire paragraph was being displayed when it wasn’t.

Though this only happened in this one place, it makes me slightly distrustful of the device.

No synchronization between devices
One of the features I was particularly excited about with the Nook was the ability to synchronize my page between devices.  I have an iPhone, a desktop Mac, and my Nook, and I’d love to be able to pick up in a book wherever I happen to be.

It’s been very confusing on the Barnes and Noble help forums but to the best I can ascertain, this feature doesn’t actually exist yet (though it may be part of a future software update).  If anyone does know how to enable it, however, I’d love to hear it.

Reading newspapers can be tricky
A lot of people have been griping about reading newspapers on the Nook.  I’ve purchased several copies of the Wall Street Journal (which, by the way, at $0.99 an issue is a perfect price, in my opinion) and I understand their complaint, though I’m just not as upset about it as others.

On the Nook, reading a newspaper is like reading a book: it’s treated as a sequential page-by-page tome with hyperlinks to other sections.  So, for instance, page 1 is the front page of the paper, with short excerpts and links to the full story.  Page 1 of another section may not start until page 300 in the actual eBook.

This kind of navigation makes it a little slow to get through a paper, especially if your the kind of person who loves to just skim headlines and flip pages.  But if you like to read full stories, then it shouldn’t be too bothersome.

It would be excellent to have a better page navigation for newspapers, but I can live with it for the time being.

Wrap Up
In general, reading on the Nook is very enjoyable.  I enjoy the ability to pick it up and start reading very quickly.  Flipping pages is fast enough (some people say it’s slower than the Kindle, but it doesn’t bother me).  Using the Nook, I’m able to sit for hours at a time and read a book without any problems.

In later parts I’ll talk about content availability, battery life, the case I got, and other details.

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last posted here.  Here’s a quick rundown.  Around the holidays I came down with the flu.  It was pretty nasty, and I was out of work for about a week.  Well, that happened to coincide with Christmas (I was sick for Christmas, blech) and was slowly recovering for New Years.

Unfortunately, during most of my recovery, I could hear very well.  I developed an ear infection in my left ear towards the end of my flu.  So, I was on antibiotics for a while, and it took a long time to actually regain my hearing completely.  Even now, I have sinus pressure which causes my hearing to feel like I’m underwater.

Not fun.  Anyway, I’m just now getting back into regular updates for this blog.  I’m probably going to stretch my writings out a bit more and instead of doing daily posts go for something closer to every-other-day.  I’d rather focus on interesting content than lots of it, but we’ll see how things progress.

Recently, I picked up a copy of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for PS3 on advice from a friend. He had played that and the new Uncharted sequel recently and had great things to say about both.

I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with this first installment. Having had the game for less than a week now, I’m just about finished with my first play-through. It’s an enthralling and highly entertaining game.

Essentially Indiana Jones in video game form, the game takes you through a treasure hunt of a storyline with some interesting twists. The gameplay is especially well refined, and gives you a lot of freedom to move around. I also really appreciate the linear travel path: there’s always just one way to continue through a level. That’s something I actually appreciate in an adventure game like this that’s otherwise so free-form.

I have to say that the gunfights can get a bit tedious at times. I’ve probably killed hundreds of enemies by this point, and it just gets a little too unbeleivable. I do like the way the gun system was designed, requiring constant planning of what weapons to carry and how to best conserve ammunition.

Anyway, that’s my initial impression. Once I finish it, I’ll have more to say. And I’ll certainly be picking up a copy of the latest installment soon too.

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