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Why I Decided Against The Nook (Or ... Why I Turned My Back On My Own Principles)

I used to read a lot. A LOT. Lately ... eh, not so much. Time is a premium (once I factor in my gaming and other social obligations). And so is space ... I mean, we have a comfortable 2 bedroom apartment, but it's in Manhattan. There isn't much space for books (especially hardcovers. I mean who wants to read an encyclopedic tome in this day and age?). Add to that the fact that many of the books I want to read aren't the books I want to keep. I would love to read some Agatha Christie, Star Trek or Star Wars books, some D&D/ Forgotten Realm books, but I wouldn't want to invest bookshelf-space for them! And so began my quest for an eBook reader.

I've wanted to get an eBook reader for a while, but couldn't commit to the Amazon Kindle for two reasons:


  1. Proprietary Format: The Kindle's preferred file format is the proprietary .AZW. There's an open - and free standard - called ePub out there, that pretty much every other device manufacturer has signed on for. By purchasing .AZW files, I'm locked into using a Kindle device ... Think of this as a rehashing of the AAC (Apple's proprietary music file format for iTunes Music Store purchases) vs. MP3 format wars a few years ago. Ironically, Amazon adopted the MP3 format for its digital music store. Ah, how the worm turns.
  2. Early Adopter's Curse: There's always a better device on the horizon. It's not like I'm buying an established single-manufacturer product, like an XBOX 360. I didn't want to be saddled with a product that can't support new functionality in a few months. Hell, I went through it earlier this year when I bought an iPhone 3G in February, only to gnash my teeth when Apple announced the iPhone 3GS shortly after.


Throwing caution against #2 to the wind (and dignity ... the product's name is the "Nook eReader". Say that out loud) , I decided to order a Nook. After all, it's got some nifty features, and it supports open standards. And I thought, if it turns out to be a lemon, I can return it to the store for a full refund.

Well, the votes came in - a week later than expected - and they were consistently lukewarm. "Great potential" was an oft-repeated phrase. "Imminent software patch" was another. I strolled down to the B&N near work to play with it one afternoon, and came back similarly unimpressed.

The thing that killed it for me - the incredibly slow UI. My admittedly unscientific perception was that it took about 7 seconds for a page to "turn", and often times, I would get a "Formatting Page" message (I forget the exact message). Why is the device taking so long to format something on its hard drive? Why should it be formatting it at all? After all, shouldn't the content be created in such a way that the only delay is from the eInk technology? For shame! Add to that dissatisfaction the great review from David Pogue, which deconstructs all the marketing BS around the Nook.

And so, with a heavy heart, I cancelled my Nook order yesterday, and ordered a Kindle instead. And yes, the proprietary standard does chafe. The best I can hope for is that Amazon changes its stance in the future. But hey, I have a functioning device for the next couple of years!

Browsing through the Nook & Kindle stores, I note that some of the books I'd love to have are missing ... titles by Gerald Durrell for example. I just hope I can find alternative sources for them!


Why Can't Comic Books Grow Up?

Advance warning: spoilers occasionally appear.

I've gotten into comic books - again - recently. I'd started following a few titles a couple of years ... Hellboy, Futurama, that sort of thing. I discovered, and got hooked onto, the Fable Series, and of course eagerly devoured any Mike Mignola work.

Recently, I got into the Blackest Night event from DC. I did so because I wanted to get back into reading Superman & Batman titles, and Blackest Night happened to be the big DC event of the year, and although it primarily concerns Green Lantern, I thought I'd give it a shot.

Now, 3 months into my reading of Blackest Night, and stand very firm on two pet peeves:

First, I HATE cross-overs!

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a cross-over refers to a storyline that spans multiple titles. Thus, a tumultuous event like Blackest night has impacted other DC franchises, leading to Superman: Blackest Night, Batman: Blackest Night, Flash: Blackest Night ... and well, you get the picture. Until recently, I'd only purchased the Superman & Batman cross-over titles, since, well ... those are my favorite characters (qualifier: see #2 below).

But then, I picked up Blackest Night #5 (the main title in this arc), and I took one look at the first page and went "Umm ... The last time I saw GL, he was whisked away from JL headquarters, and now, he's reunited with all the other color Lanterns.  ... Did I miss something here?" Turns out, I did. I missed Green Lantern #45-48 (or something in that vicinity), according to the friendly staff at Midtown Comics. And thus, I had to buy titles of a series I have absolutely NO interest in following.

"But hold on", you say! "Why is that such a pet peeve?". It's because a cross-over should not rely on other titles to develop major plot points. The writer has to be able to keep the central threads contained in one title/ series, and use the cross-over titles to fill in any incidental gaps. You don't want to alienate the reader by forcing him to invest more cash in titles normally not followed just to make sense of what's going on!

Don't get me wrong - I think Blackest Night is a fun event. The visuals are gorgeous, and it's generally well-paced. I'll definitely be following it with bated breath until the very end. I think it might be DC's plot device to resurrect Bruce Wayne. Or at least a bridge into a story arc that sees his return to modern times (that's right, he's not dead. Just wandering around in prehistory. Lame, or what?!)

Ahem ... to return to my original point. Cross-overs suck.

Second, comic books need to grow up.

If you've picked yourself off the floor from when you fell off your chair laughing, read on for an explanation.

The reason why I lost interest in comic books in the first place can be summed up in one word: escalation. Superheros kept getting stronger. And villains too. Next thing I know, each story arc deals with the next big cosmic entity threatening to destroy the universe as we know it. And smaller arcs just reduced the scale of things ("end of the city as we know it", etc.). And that's why, when I finally got back into comics, it was to read unconventional titles, and I loved them. Fables, Hellboy, Sandman, and so on. And that's because those comics focused on characters not action. Each story arc saw some humor, some drama, some action, and above all, some major character development. Especially in Fables. I kid you not, I cannot put into words how Fables TPB #1 blew me away, conceptually, and for the amazing writing.

And that's why I get a little bit depressed when I read the latest crop of Superman or Batman titles (as an aside, there are like 5 separate Batman series now. WTFF?!). These venerable DC titles seem to revel in garish action. I have no idea why ... is it because modern youth has the attention span of a gnat and needs to be entertained with pretty, petty baubles? If you want to see these titles written well, pick up any story arc written by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, or Frank Miller. It will change the way you read comic books, I guarantee it.

Which is why, although I'm digging this Blackest Night event, a small part of me rebels for the quality of writing and the seeming over-emphasis on the afore-mentioned gorgeous visuals. It's all style. No substance.

And that's why comic books need to grow up!


As an aside, I cant thank the friendly staff at Midtown Comics enough. I've visited many different comic book stores in NYC, and I've had my fair share of Comic Book Guy moments. Not so with Midtown Comics ... friendly, professional, helpful, and quite knowledgeable. There are a couple of minor peeves though: I have an online account with them, and shipping is by time (biweekly), not by number of titles. Depending on the vagaries of the comic printing schedule, I can get as many as 10 titles per shipment, or as few as 2. And the shipping cost is the same. I've paid $8 shipping for a heavy box of comics, and for a single issue. To quote Eric Cartman, "You're breaking my balls, man" ... and the second peeve is that they need to tune into a better FM station instore. I thought it was an endlessly looping mix tape piping over the PA the first few times I visited the store!


So Let's Give This A Try

I've been hearing a lot about Squarespace lately ... from all kinds of podcasts, blogs, and so on, and I thought, "Eh, what the hell?". Maybe this'll be the kick up my backside to get back to blogging.


Well, hope springs eternal, at least.


Disney + Marvel = Dismal?

The interwebitubes have been all a-twitter (hah!) about the Disney-Marvel deal today (BTW, hats off to TechCrunch - they posted the first story I saw). A lot of folks have tried to wonder what the mash-up may lead to ... here are a couple of my favorites:

- From @muskrat_john: Bambi's mother was killed...BY WOLVERINE!
- From @pvponline: The Incredibles can meet the Fantastic Four now.

And other combos I could think of included:

- The Cars fight Magneto!
- The Beast meets Beast!
- Hannah Montana meets Jubilee!

Apparently Stan Lee thinks this is a good deal. In short, I disagree ... somewhat.

Let's face it, Disney's current roster of IP & Franchises appeals to young kids, and girls. I'm sure there's boy-centric material in there, but I'll be darned if I know what it is. The typical Disney fare is "wholesome family" entertainment, focussed on driving home a message or moral. Marvel's roster does include "lighter" versions of their popular heroes but a significant chunk appeals to an older, more mature, primarily male population. No disrespect meant to the girls, but I think Emma Frost or Mystique are drawn to satisfy raging hormones. And that pretty much goes for most comic book characters anyway. DC is no different.

On the face of it, you could argue that the two companies supplement, not complement, each other. The combined entity will have content that appeals to younger kids, girls, and boys. To me, that's the danger - the two companies' products appeal to different demographics, and need different marketing techniques. There's a very real danger that unless Marvel retains editorial control, that they'd need to tone down their edginess, possibly leading them to shelve or sell off some of their more "mature" IP like The Punisher.

Where the deal does make sense is if you look at Disney as a collection of content delivery channels. Disney of course has its own venerable film & animation studios (which have woefully languished since the 90's and ceded the crown to Pixar). Disney owns a suite of TV channels, including ABC Family & XD. The latter already carries the superhero fare, and ABC Family carried a host of direct-to-TV content developed by Marvel in the late 90's (leading to a lawsuit, even). Disney also does publish in the dead-tree space, but I'm not sure how large that arm of the business is, or how large it is in comparison to Marvel.

Thus in my mind, what makes the most sense is Marvel acting as an independent studio, using the Disney brand & marketing platform to deliver that content. But that's only if Marvel can keep Disney from interfering with the content.

On a personal note, I hope to blog more often. I realize the blog's fallen by the way side since I got married ... ah heck, who am I kidding, since I found Twitter! But I want to write more, and hopefully I can stay motivated! As always, comments and encouragement help!


Want Some Dirt On Google?

TechCrunch just posted an article where they copied in a thread from a Google Groups where ex-employees discuss why they left the Mountainview company.

I'm not sure how to view the article. I mean, it's pretty vicious of Michael Arrington to have posted it in the first place; plus, every company has it's share of disgruntled ex-employees - I'm sure Google (should it choose to respond), could publish testimonials from happy ex- & current employees.

On the other hand, it is strangely gratifying that a company as lauded & adored as Google can be shown to have common, almost pedestrian, flaws.

I wonder if any business school might take this information and turn it into a case study or discussion on managing people in organizations. Anyone out there listening (and, um, following this blog!)