Finding “unusual” content using Zite

When I open Twitter in the morning I usually see a bunch of education-related articles being shared by my professional learning network (PLN – which primarily consists of other teachers). This is very good; I’ve built my PLN in this way so that I can connect with colleagues and learn from them.

But it can be dangerous to live only in that space, reading and retweeting the same thinking that everyone else is reading and retweeting. We echo each other, and while that can help to encourage and support each other it can also insulate us from other thinking.

Some of the people I follow have edgier thoughts or share content that’s different from the rest of the pack, and I appreciate those posts. I like to branch out.

I use Zite to read “news”, usually on my phone. Zite is a content aggregator that collects based on topics you’re interested in.

I have included “Education” in my Quicklist in Zite, so I’m getting a lot of those same, often-tweeted articles. But the other topics are a bit different, and so I see things that my PLN doesn’t give me:

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Some of the most interesting articles come from Woodworking, DRM, Publishing, and Writing. You can see that I’ve more recently added Java and Statistics.

Rather than just looking at the Home screen view (in which Zite gives me a sampling from each topic) I’ll dip into topics in depth and see what catches my eye. Sometimes it’s just interesting for me; sometimes I think it’s worth sharing:

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Probably most people have other ways to gather content (like surfing, or reading news sites). This is working for me.

What works for you? And if you’re a Zite user, what topics do you find different and interesting?

My thoughts on DRM: Digital Rights Management

DRM has been around for a long time. There are a lot of arguments for and against DRM from the perspective of the creator and the consumer, the publisher and the distributor.

I see these arguments being talked about along with the Amazon-Hachette battle. People are concerned about being locked into a platform.

I understand that. I like it when products are offered DRM-free, because I’m more confident that I will be able to access the product in several years, and because I have choice in how I consume the product.

I also understand how publishers are afraid of piracy; if it’s too easy to copy digital media, people may steal instead of paying.

But I think both groups are missing something (at least, some people in both groups).

DRM isn’t such a huge problem sometimes

At least, it’s not a huge problem when the management platform provider is good about ensuring the media is available forever on all popular devices. Amazon, for example, lets you read your Kindle books on pretty much everything. They don’t lock you into the Kindle device [anymore]. I have a Kindle, an iPhone, an iPad, and a laptop; all of them are perfectly happy with my books.

It’s also not a problem if DRM is a choice. If I can choose to purchase a book with DRM or without DRM, even at a premium, I’m a happy consumer.

What’s more, Amazon isn’t the only place to get books. I’ll admit, I prefer to buy books there (because then I have everything in the same account), but publishers have lots of other options (including other prominent booksellers like B&N, or distributing the books themselves). Amazon has provided a robust distribution platform, but anyone can publish and distribute an ebook. I’ve done it myself (for free, of course), several times.

Tor Books recently started a new imprint for ebooks. They’re going to be DRM-free because it doesn’t hurt sales and it’s best for the consumer. I’m happy about that.

DRM is a huge problem sometimes

Sometimes DRM is terrible. You have to have 17 different apps, which all function a little differently, to read graphic novels from 17 different DRMing publishers. That’s really irritating (“terrible” is overstating the case, I suppose). I don’t buy graphic novels for Kindle unless they’re exceptionally cheap because I don’t like how the iPad app handles them.

And if the publisher goes belly-up, stops supporting the app, or even stops supporting the app on your specific device, you’re out of luck. Enjoy your eternal subscription to the media you can’t view.

And it doesn’t work

If you want to keep people from copying digital works, you have to prevent them from viewing digital works.

For books, screen captures are inconvenient but effective, and only one person needs to do it. Retyping is slow, but people do that too.

You want to prevent people from copying music? You can’t let them play music, then, or they’ll find a way to copy it.

It’s not a solvable problem, since our playback and recording devices are the same things.

Interestingly, DRM actually encourages piracy in some ways. If you require your graphic novel to be viewed in your own app and a consumer already has a different preferred app, they might seek out a pirated copy so that they don’t have to use your platform. See?

I’m not worried

For now I’ll just make my choices, and hope that publishers start removing DRM from their products (they’re allowed to, after all, even/especially on Amazon). I want to be able to archive my own stuff, just in case Amazon deletes my account or Dark Horse stops supporting iOS apps.

To the publishers reading this, though: I sometimes decided to not purchase a work because it was DRMed and not available in the ecosystem I live in. I didn’t want to download another app or create another account, so you didn’t get my dollars, neither did your author, and I enjoyed someone else’s book. If you hadn’t DRMed it, I would have bought it. Sorry.

What if ebooks had come first?

I like to read books. I always have, and I expect that will continue for the rest of my life.

But I’ve changed in my reading habits a lot over the last few years. Now I read far more ebooks than print books, and I listen to audiobooks as well. Most recently I’ve started exploring graphic novels, mostly digitally on my iPad.

When I talk to people about reading ebooks (usually novels), they either hop excitedly foot to foot inquiring about the Kindle titles I love or they scrunch their faces as though tasting bitterness in their old-schoolery while proclaiming they prefer print books.

Why the polarity? Why do people love one or the other?

Why ebooks are better

They’re sometimes cheaper (not always).

They’re easy to get on release day, or any other day. They’re always available and never out of stock.

You can bring (and read) hundreds of them anywhere without lugging anything you wouldn’t already have (phone, tablet, etc.).

They’re not heavy (ever try to read a Brandon Sanderson hardcover?).

They’re not lost in a basement flood, they can be archived, and they can’t be stolen by literate, opportunistic ruffians in the coffee shop.

You can share your notes (even voice notes!) with a social network.

They can synchronize across devices, and with audiobook narrations.

You can adjust the type and screen to account for your failing eyes, the brightness of the room, your font snobbery, and the colour you want the “paper” to be.

From a publisher’s/distributor’s point of view, they require no storage and no shipping; that is, no per-unit cost. They can therefore maintain a back catalogue into perpetuity at no additional cost. Books can even be updated to correct typos, improve covers, and so on.

Why print books are better

You can share them easily.

There is no question that you own it, and you’ll always be able to read it.

You can write in them with a pencil.

They work when you’re out of power.

You can leaf through them quickly, which is helpful for some times of reading.

You can’t change the type, colour, or where stuff is on the page (that’s a good thing).

They don’t depend on screen resolution to look good.

But what if we had had ebooks first?

But of all the reasons people list for preferring print books, the one I hear most often isn’t such a “logical” reason: it’s just that people “are used” to them. It’s almost an argument from nostalgia.

I think if we’d had ebooks before print books the market would be different.

People buying print books would be incredulous at the delays (“You mean I can’t just click the button and start reading?!”), and at the limitations of the format (“I can’t embiggen the font!”). They would feel cheated at only being able to have a small number in their bag at once.

But print books would still have their place, because they truly are better at some things. They’re better when you need to look at a series of charts. They’re awesome for marking up. They are locally very shareable.

Sometimes digital text is later produced in print formats. For example, a series of blog posts might be sold as a paperback book (even while remaining free on the web). Or an ebook is successful and then has a print run. This is often to hit both markets, I’m sure, but sometimes it’s because a text is better represented in print. The authors whose books are published with gorgeous covers, creamy paper and stitched signatures revel in the work of art they were a part of. They may love the pagination, or how they were able to choose the font to evoke emotion instead of relying on Caecilia.

I love that there is a market for both, and I’m sad that many books will never make it into my digital library because of a publisher’s retention of rights without the will to digitize. I hope that authors and publishers will make both forms available to us, and I’m happy that print-on-demand will make it reasonable to do so without many of the costs of warehousing and shipping.

If ebooks had come first we would still have both forms, but more people would think more kindly of them.

What I’m Reading

I saw this post by @PernilleRipp via @OSSEMOOC today:

First, go and read the article. Great advice.

Now, I’ll share what I’m reading right now. See how I was inspired?

  • Gabriel’s Journey (Book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption) by Steve Umstead (Kindle; just listened to #0 in audiobook)
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (audiobook; second time through)
  • Play by Stuart Brown (borrowed hardcover; haven’t actually started yet)
  • Star Trek: Ongoing (graphic novel/comic series; just finished issue #32)

What are you reading?

Great apps for reading comics and graphic novels

Last week I griped about the problems reading graphic novels on my iPad (gentle rant here). While I haven’t solved the problems of the portrait-only-and-can’t-zoom Kindle app, I found two others which are even more awesome than Cloudreaders (it’s still good, if less polished, and has some unique features – you can get it here). Neither can read the DRM-crippled Kindle comics.

Chunky Comic Reader

Screenshot of Chunky Comic Reader for iPad.
This app is brilliant. Really, really great. It has an interface that effectively disappears while you’re reading. I don’t just mean that the icons and buttons aren’t visible; I mean that you forget that there are controls because everything is so completely intuitive.

When I finish a book, it brings up a thumbnail of the cover of the next book. Tapping it takes me there.

When I read in landscape mode, I scroll down the page. Swiping brings me to the top of the next page, which is exactly the behaviour I want (Cloudreaders doesn’t do this).

It integrates with Google Drive, Dropbox, and a few other services, as well as Mac and Windows shared folders, FTP sites, and more.

Apparently there is right-to-left reading for all you manga aficionados.

The developer is responsive on Twitter (@ChunkyReader) and seems friendly (I didn’t have a problem; I just tweeted some kudos).

The app is $2.99 now FREE, which is a great price for such a seamless interface. Plus it has a nice icon (actually, I liked the previous icon better).

Darkhorse Comics

Screenshot of the Darkhorse Comics iPad app.
I haven’t tried the Android version, but the iOS version is sweet. I bolstered my library on Free Comic Book Day and now have 32 titles to churn through. It won’t let you import non-Dark Horse comics, but they have an extensive selection, so I’m okay with that for now. Otherwise the app functions exactly as you’d expect (that is, like Chunky Comic Reader but for DH’s DRM titles).

Troubles reading digital graphic novels

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I’ve recently started reading graphic novels in both print and digital forms. I borrowed Ember and Buffy Season 8 Volume 1 from the Sault Public Library; I bought Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi Volume 1 – Force Storm in print; I purchased several comics for Kindle from Amazon (Star Trek Vol. 5, Star Trek: Countdown, Fray: Future Slayer, and a few more); and I bought this week’s Humble Bundle, which was a nice collection of Image Comics.

I like the print books in some ways. I find I take the time to look over the pages a little bit more, and it’s nice to be able to flip back quickly to review a previous scene.

I like the digital form for portability and selection. Plus I can buy them any time I like.

But there is a problem that prompted this post. Unless there is a magical setting I can’t find, the Kindle app is terrible for viewing comics.

When you try to zoom (pinch-style) a single panel remains visible and sometimes zooms in closer on any text. The remainder of the page is greyed out. You can’t zoom further, and you can’t pan around the pan or panel. Swiping will shift focus to the next panel (or a different part of the same panel) in sequence.

This is a brutal problem when a panel stretches across the entire page, because selecting a panel doesn’t necessarily make it bigger. I’m also using an iPad Mini, which has only 768 pixels across horizontally. The app only lets me view graphic texts in portrait mode (I could get 50% more pixels horizontally if I could rotate). On an iPad Mini (or even a full-size, Retina iPad) the text is often still difficult to read for me. I also can’t zoom in to view the artwork in detail.

And not to be overly picky, but I don’t like how greying out the inactive panels obscures the rest of the page. That’s just preference, I suppose.

On the other hand I use Cloudreaders for iOS to view other formats (like PDFs, CBRs, and CBZs that the Humble Bundle provides). This app gets things right in many, many ways. Swiping, zooming, and more work as I would hope. I can really get close to the artwork, and I can read the tiny text. I can use it in landscape or portrait orientation, letting me decide how best to use the pixels at my disposal. Unfortunately it can’t be used for those pesky, locked down Kindle books.

Until Amazon fixes the problems with the Kindle app for comics, I’ll be buying my graphic texts elsewhere so that I some freedom to view them the way I’d like to. It seems odd that they’ve made the design choices they have; hopefully they change things soon.

A very brief audiobook review of Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Where to get it

The Audible edition was narrated by Noah Galvin and was 6 hours 23 minutes long. The print version is 226 pages.

The very brief review

4.5 stars. This book was interesting, painful, reflective, well-written, and well-narrated.

The brief review

I always find “coming of age” stories strangely compelling. I think perhaps it’s because the characters always make different choices than I made in high school, and that sets me a-pondering. In this story the main character, Charlie, recounts his first year of high school through letters he writes to a stranger. The letter writing part is unnecessary and doesn’t really add to the story for me. Charlie has some issues which he’s only partly aware of but which are mostly apparent to the reader/listener. It’s about friendship, choices, drugs, identity, love, mental health, and the early 90s.

The language of the book is beautiful. From beginning to end the words are thoughtful, inspiring, and gorgeously poetic. I might have to read a text copy of this book because although the narration was excellent I want to re-read and revel in the prose.

So I’ll recommend it. Enjoy.