Megan McArdle has started a meme posting the details of her first Amazon purchase.

Amazon did not launch in Canada until 2002. My first purchase from Amazon.ca was Good to Great made Aug 14, 2002. I remember that I loved the business anecdotes in the book but that I hated the analysis of what makes companies great.

I certainly did not remember what book was in my first order but I certainly remember my first order from Amazon.ca. I had been ordering books online from Chapters.ca for several years at that point and I was much happier with the overall process with Amazon than I was with Chapters.

My first Chapters.ca purchase was From Naked Ape to Superspecies by David Suzuki made Nov 18, 1999. I don’t remember anything specific from this book but I do currently have a strong dislike for Suzuki’s brand of eco-nihilism. I suspect I disliked his point of view then too.

Checklist Manifesto

February 12, 2010

The Daily Shoot assignment #89

Continuing the Friday fun theme, make a photo that goes with the title of a book you’ve read.

I have recently read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande as well as his other two books “Better” and “Complications”. The two older books are compilations of his pieces in the New Yorker while the new book expands on the medical checklist theme which he and others have written about recently. Highly recommended.

Checklist Manifesto

Amazon has now released the Kindle iPhone app in the Canadian AppStore.
It looks good. After installing, the app requests your Amazon login information on first launch at which point your existing books appear in the Archived folder.
Clicking on an Archived book downloads it to your iPhone or iPod Touch. The book then appears on the home screen.
The app has a clean interface that allows page turns via swipes or clicking on the left portion of the screen (previous page) or right portion (next page). Clicking in the bottom margin brings up the extra controls allowing bookmarking, returning to the Home screen, and the same canonical progress bar showing reading location. The killer feature, of course, is synchronizing reading location across devices.

I don't know if its just me but I have absolutely no luck reporting what seem like clear and reproducible bugs.

I sent a bug report to Amazon regarding the PDF conversion problem after the 2.3 upgrade. I received a response in e-mail that looks autogenerated or perhaps my report was confusing. Anyway, the e-mail has a very customer focused section asking whether the e-mail resolves my problem and includes a “If not, click here:” Feedback link which I clicked through. I filled out my information in the form and started typing in the Comments text area but I couldn’t type beyond a sentence or two. Looking at the source I found:

<textarea name=”comments” rows=”10″ cols=”23″ maxlength=”50″>

Nice. I have 50 characters to provide feedback. I like succinct as much as the next guy but sheesh.

My original bug report was the following:

Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon has released updated software for the 2nd generation Kindle including the Canadian Kindle.

I received an e-mail from Amazon describing the update but the update had not yet been pushed out wirelessly. The update binary file can be installed manually. The updated User’s Guide is also available.

In addition to better battery life with Wireless On, the new version brings native PDF file viewing and screen rotation to the 6″ Kindle.

Screen Rotation is available from the Text Size menu (key to the right of the spacebar on the keyboard). PDF files in portrait mode display the entire page. The text is unreadable at this magnification. In landscape mode the full width of the page is displayed making it a little easier to read. Multi-column text is a pain.

@FREE.KINDLE.COM Conversions Broken

Unfortunately the update has broken the user_name@free.kindle.com conversion service. The PDF file is returned in its original format. The documentation states:

Tip: You can choose to convert PDF file(s) that are sent to your device by adding the word “convert” in the email subject line.

This does not seem to be the case with the @free.kindle.com service, at least with my testing.

Canadian Kindle Review

November 22, 2009

The international version of the Amazon Kindle eBook reader is now available in Canada.

I ordered one and have been using it for four days now so I thought I’d write up some my initial thoughts. Ordering the Kindle is accomplished through the U.S. Amazon site (amazon.com vs. amazon.ca). The Kindle Store where you can order books online via a web browser is also accessed via the .com site. The Kindle Store is also available directly on the device. It allows you to search for books, read reviews, and even write reviews.

Text input is via a Blackberry-esque thumb QWERTY keyboard. While reading a book you can start typing at any time. A small search box appears at the bottom of the screen which allows you to search the current book, a dictionary, Google, and others. The keys are round and flush at the edge but raised slightly in the middle of each key. Most of a user’s time on the Kindle is spent reading so the keys are designed to be unobtrusive during normal reading which makes them less than ideal for typing compared to a input heavy device such as a Blackberry. I think this is a good compromise considering the screen is fundamentally different than the computer screens we are used to. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tyranny of the Market

November 29, 2007

I finished reading The Tyranny of the Market by Joel Waldfogel last weekend. The subtitle of the book is “Why You Can’t Always Get What you Want”. The premise is that markets do not always fulfill the needs of consumers whose tastes are not shared by a majority of people. To support this claim Waldfogel describes black and Hispanic populations in urban markets being underserviced by radio, newspapers, and television options. Waldfogel says that two prerequisites are needed for this type of market failure. “First, preferences must differ across groups. And second, something — generally fixed costs — must limit the number of available options and prevent products from being provided to small groups of potential buyers.”

My answer to Waldfogel is <Mick Jagger singing> “If you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need”. Sorry, couldn’t resist :-)

The mass media examples presented in the book remind one of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory. Anderson claims that finite shelf space is to blame for your inability to get Bollywood films at your local Blockbuster. The internet, on the other hand, has infinite shelf space and that fact coupled with technology to help customers find obscure titles allows “long tail” products to outsell blockbuster products in aggregate (or so the theory goes).

In my mind, Waldfogel only manages to demonstrate what seems obvious, products and their prices are beholden to the laws of physics and the availability of information. In the Long Tail theory, the physics of shelf space and population density determines how many titles are carried in a bricks-and-mortar store. iTunes and Netflicks did not change the laws of physics but they changed the way their products/services are delivered which changes the specific laws of physics that apply (or are most critical). Amazon.com biggest breakthrough involved information, that is, the way people discovered books. Sears built an empire around warehouses, the railway, and a large selection of products communicated through a catalogue.

I think free markets tend to find an equilibrium that balances price with product offerings. It takes shifts in information (i.e. innovation) to disrupt the system and a new equilibrium results. The fact that these equilibriums preclude certain offerings is not proof of a market failure that requires government intervention. Waldfogel’s book is well written and his argument is clearly presented but I’m left unconvinced.

Marc Andreessen’s quote of the week says brainstorming is a bad idea. David Sloan Wilson addresses the scientific claim that brainstorming is ineffective in his book Evolution for Everyone (Ch 26: How Many Inventors Does it Take to Make a Lightbulb).

Amazingly, the entire scientific literature on brainstorming might have reached a false conclusion about the advantages of thinking in groups by confining itself to mental tasks comparable to changing a lightbulb, as opposed to moving a piano.

In David Sloan Wilson’s research, brainstorming is effective when the mental task is challenging. Moving a piano, for instance, is best done by a group while a simple task like changing a lightbulb is best done by a single individual (or a group of lawyers if humor is your goal). Brainstorming, therefore, is a good idea for non-trivial mental tasks.

My Tamed Fox Spot

July 25, 2007

I wonder if the Russian researchers that tamed the silver fox had ever read about The Little Prince and his tame fox?

‘What does “tame” mean?’

‘It is something which is too often forgotten,’ said the fox. ‘It means to establish ties…’
‘”To establish ties”?’

‘That’s right,’ said the fox. ‘To me, you are still just a little boy like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you have no need of me, either. To you, I am just a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we shall need one another. To me, you will be unique. And I shall be unique to you.’

‘I’m beginning to understand,’ said the little prince.
‘There is a flower… I think she has tamed me…’

Oh happy day. Reading Storm World by Chris Mooney and Evolution for Everyone by David Sloan Wilson. Books are like Smarties, part of the fun is how you decide to consume them. I am swapping after each chapter but it is unclear how long that will last. I am a regular Mr. Spontaneity no?

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, has released the first two parts of his incomplete three-part graphic novel The Right Number. In his book Understanding Comics McCloud explores the fundamental elements of what we think of as comic books but also come in the form of “graphic novels” which are essentially adult stories told in comic book format. McCloud’s hero in the graphic novel world is Will Eisner who wrote the first exploration of the art form in his book Comics & Sequential Art.

It is hard to define the medium and The Right Number makes it more complicated since it is not a book but a Flash based presentation. It is “Sequential Art” which is a set of sequential frames containing graphics and sometimes text used to tell a story.

The Right Number is a story, regardless of the presentation format. Judging by how bothered I am about not yet being able to read the conclusion, I think it is potentially a great story.

Mandatory Auto Insurance

June 30, 2007

Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex is full of pro free market examples but the information on why automobile insurance in Philadelphia is so expensive makes Landsburg squirm.

For ideological free-marketeers (like myself), theories like Smith and Wright’s can be intellectually jarring. We are accustomed to defending free markets as the guarantors of both liberty and prosperity, but here’s a case where liberty and prosperity are at odds: By forcing people to act against their own self-interest in the short run, governments can make everybody more prosperous in the long run. (Though some diehard libertarians will object that the prosperity is an illusion, because governments that have been empowered to make us more prosperous will inevitably abuse that power to our detriment.)

So what is this jar-a-libertarian theory of Smith and Wright?

CLAIM: the number of uninsured automobiles on the road drives up the cost of insurance which in turn drives up the number of uninsured automobiles.

It is a positive feedback loop that results in pockets like Philadelphia with very high insurance rates and a very high number of uninsured automobiles compared to other areas that are equivalent socio-economically.

Wage and Tall Teenagers

June 28, 2007

Another topic in Steven Landsburg’s book More Sex is Safer Sex comes from the research on how teen height predicts adult earnings. Previous research shows that tall people earn more, however, the kicker is that your teenage height is all that matters.

Two adults of the same age and height who were different heights at age 16 are treated differently in the labor market—the person who was taller as a teen earns more. Being relatively short through the teen years—as opposed to adulthood or early childhood—essentially determines the (wage) returns to height.

The researchers say this is due to increased involvement in sports and other social extracurricular activities. Maybe. Perhaps it is due to a “nurture assumption” effect where teenagers sort themselves among their peers based on height. I also wonder if the numbers are not skewed by early vs. late bloomer affects which is the only way (in my mind) that individuals change their height relative to their peers between teenage and adult years.

Interesting stuff.