Archive for Tech

The iPad as a Mobile Writing Platform

I’ve come to enjoy writing in Pages on my Mac, and using the Pages app on the iPad is proving to be just as capable. Enough people have asked how I like it that I thought I’d just go ahead and write up what I’ve done to turn it into a great system for writing on the road.

First, let’s talk about the on-screen keyboard. While it’s not near as bad as some would expect, it does have its quirks. When typing in landscape mode, the key sizes and spacing are not far off from a standard keyboard, and just as with the iPhone, the predictive typing and auto-correction helps smooth most typos. The downside for full-fingered typists, however, is the rearrangement of some of the keys, most notably dropping the exclamation point down to the comma key and having the apostrophe as a sort of sub-key of the comma (hold the comma key and swipe up to get an apostrophe). I still haven’t quite gotten used to it, but at the same time, it hasn’t really slowed me down, especially for short works or outlines.

I found an easy solution in adding a Bluetooth keyboard. This gives me finer cursor control and text selection with the shift and arrow keys, and it leaves me more screen real estate for typing. Even carrying both the iPad and the keyboard, I have less bulk and weight than a laptop and I still get the benefit of longer battery life.

There may be other writing and text-editing apps available, but again, I’ve found the Pages app works quite well. Most of the basic formatting, like numbering and indenting, has made it to the app, and it can export to PDF and Word docs as well as to the native Pages format.

Two ways the app could be almost perfect: 1) More flexibility in exporting apps (such as to Dropbox, below); 2) Add support for comments. My editor at Evileye Books makes extensive use of the comments features in Pages and Preview on the Mac, and he’s getting me addicted. It would be so much easier if those comments also showed up in the Pages app, even if it was through something like an icon placeholder if not having them on-screen at all times.

To get files to the iPad, as well as to keep them in sync on other devices, Dropbox is a must. I have their software installed on my desktop, my laptop, my iPod touch, my iPad, and now my shiny, new, Android-powered smartphone. Put a file in a Dropbox folder and it’s uploaded to the Dropbox server, where it is then pushed out to every device subscribed to the account. I can even access my files from any browser, or use it to share files with other people. The Dropbox app can open and read Word docs, PDFs, and Pages files, and it can send files right to the Pages app for editing.

Dropbox’s single, most important selling point is it helps ensure I have the most current copy of a document available at all times. No more comparing time stamps, copying across a network, and no more juggling thumb drives and hoping they don’t suddenly crap out. If Pages could export back to Dropbox directly, the system would be bulletproof.

My next must-have app is Evernote. There are competitors like Simplenote, but whatever the final solution, they help keep my notes synchronized across my various devices. I still brainstorm best with a pencil and paper (so the Moleskine still goes with the iPad), but important notes get dropped into Evernote for easy access. Evernote makes it easy to keep notes for different projects sorted, and the tagging makes it easy to find them. I can also take photos and drop them into Evernote, and there’s a voice note feature I have yet to take advantage of.

I have the Kindle app loaded on all of my portable devices, too. While it’s nice to have as a distraction or for inspiration, I also have a free Kindle edition of The New Oxford American Dictionary on hand for when I don’t have an Internet connection and searching Google isn’t an option.

And that about sums it up. I have email and my address book, of course, but the smartphone handles most of that. Same for Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress apps, but I don’t consider those must-haves for the actual process of writing. Google Earth and Maps can be helpful at times, and I’ve got things like a first aid reference, a how-to guide, and a drink mix app for occasional use as well. I have yet to use the Dragon Dictation app for more than just tinkering and testing, but I can see how it might be useful at times, too.

Lately I’ve been all about keeping it Spartan. The core tools are the true necessities; the rest are just flashy apps and distractions. I spend all day multi-tasking on my desktop and laptop, so it’s nice to have a pared-down device with just one app holding my focus on the screen. I’ve come to enjoy editing and proofing on the iPad as well. Using it like a tablet closely mimics editing on paper, and it feels more relaxing than sitting at a desk or keyboard. Again, if I could add comments to documents, it would be almost perfect.

Finally, I love the portability. I carry a lot of extra gear in my laptop backpack for work, and I can drop the iPad into my karate backpack without adding significant weight or bulk (I keep karate notes in Evernote as well). I can drop the iPad into a messenger bag, with or without the keyboard, and haul it to a convention or on a short trip with no problem. Hell, I can even drop both the iPad and the keyboard into a saddle bag on my motorcycle and really travel light.

Time was I thought I’d never be able to do without a laptop. Now I feel like I’m just using the laptop out of habit. I’m not quite ready to give it up, but if I had to, I bet I would get along just fine.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Time to Knuckle Down

It’s been a hell of a day.

It started with a crashed server at work. It took a turn for the better this evening when I burned through two more steps of my karate review process, leaving me only sparring and ju ju undo to complete to earn Ikkyu, or first-degree brown belt.

Then it ramped up again when I got some good news from Evileye Books, which I hope to share with you in the coming weeks. It means more work, but that’s a good thing.

Now I’m all amped up and need to burn off some energy.

A belated song of the day:

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Digital Craze

The digital publishing market has just exploded over the last couple of months. I’ve hardly worn the newness off my iPad and now we’ve got Barnes & Noble entering the e-reading app fray, Borders about to drop their Kobo ereader (which Wired is already calling a possible Kindle killer), and even a new device called the enTourage eDGe (their ridiculous use of caps) that looks something like a Kindle strapped to an iPad.

It doesn’t stop there. Amazon may keep their sales figures quiet, but it’s clear they’re enjoying a fair amount of success and it was only a matter of time before Barnes & Noble responded with their own e-publishing arm. Realistically they’re more digital distributor than digital publisher (individual authors and small presses like Evileye are technically the publishers), but that line gets fuzzier when they sign exclusive authors.

Now I wonder how long before Barnes & Noble — maybe even Borders — jump into the POD market, too. It appears Amazon will be the first with an official Android reading app, though, and as the first to understand the store is the real killer feature, they’re just going to keep pushing the envelope. You don’t stay the leader by waiting to see what the other guy is going to do next.

Which reminds me of the Sony Digital Reader. There are several ideological and some technical advantages to being open, but it just doesn’t have the convenience of Amazon’s WhisperSync. Sure, my wife’s a bit bummed she can’t loan a book to her mother or her sister, but to her it’s hardly even a nuisance as it’s far outweighed by the system’s advantages. (It also doesn’t help that, in my experience, the Sony reader is slower on refreshes and somewhat awkward to navigate.)

This eDGe thing is technically interesting, though it strikes me as more prototype than product at the moment. Here’s their intro video:

They obviously have the best of both worlds in mind. However, why do I care about being able to scribble on the eInk display if I’ve got the tablet right next to it? In watching the usage, it doesn’t appear it has an accelerometer, and the interface seems slow compared to the iPad’s (which to me suggests it will be underpowered). For my taste, a touchscreen has to be instantly responsive to be worthwhile (a test the Nook also failed). Ommus called it ugly, but what really bothers me is you can’t use a simple protective sleeve on it and hope to flip it open, and when it is flipped so the screens are back-to-back, you’re always going to have one screen face-down when you put it down. How rugged are the surfaces of their screens?

I don’t know. I’m sure this is more subjective opinion than objective, but I really don’t see the need to carry a two-in-one device. I’d be content to carry one device that nails it’s job than something that, for the moment at least, may be playing catch-up in two categories. Battery life and outdoor reading are the only real advantages of eInk, and the iPad’s battery life is long enough to make the eInk advantage negligible. So now I’m paying the same price for what may be an inferior device just so I can read outside? No, probably not.

I’m sure there are more in development, and we have yet to see what some of the iPad competitors will bring to the table. Anything with a reading app — be it Kindle, B&N eReader, or something like Stanza — is now an e-reading device. Battery life is getting longer, processors are getting smaller and faster, storage is getting cheaper (or is effectively replaced by cloud storage in Kindle’s case), and displays won’t be far behind.

We can call it a craze for now, but I’m thinking soon this will be the status quo. I still don’t believe they’ll replace paper anytime soon, but I do see a future where paper books become more about collectibility and nostalgia. They’ll be to the next generation what vinyl records are to us.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Kindle: Five Months Later

I bought the Wife a Kindle for Xmas last year, and it occurred to me I never followed up on the original blog post to see how the Kindle stands up to long-term use.

The short version? She still loves it. She now has 80 books on it (including mine, of course), she’s skinned it, and she uses it daily.

She’s gone back to a paperback book exactly once in that time, and only then because she didn’t feel like repurchasing a book she already owned. She’s read in bed, in the kitchen, on the couch, and outside, and she hardly ever has to charge it. It was weird seeing the sort of screen saver image on it all the time, but we’ve gotten used to it. Initial concerns over the contrast, eye strain, and so on have all proven non-issues.

She’s also found it’s easier to read than dead tree editions. Even modest mass market paperback begins to feel heavy after a time, and so does the Kindle. However, she’s found she can lay the Kindle flat on the table and keep reading. That’s just not going to happen with a book, and even if it did lay flat, on many pages you have to deal with reading around the curvature of the page into the spine. Bookmarking and navigating through books is a snap, and with Amazon’s setup she’s able to delete and re-download titles at will.

Most of all, she likes not having to wait for hardcover new releases to hit paperback and not having to pay hardcover price for them. At the rate she reads, the savings becomes well worth the investment, with or without the convenience of instant delivery and having less clutter on the bookshelves.

I recently got my hands on an iPad, and I look forward to comparing the experience. I first intended to use the native iBooks app, but I’ve actually been impressed with the Kindle app instead. I started by downloading my book for free, as I’d already purchased it for my iPod touch. Just for kicks, I downloaded it to my MacBook as well, and as you can see from yesterday’s post, I loaded it up on all three devices. Even cooler? The other devices recognized where I had left off on the iPod touch and asked if I wanted to jump to the same page. That’s a nice bonus for someone who hast to share a Kindle and wants to read a book on a mobile device or computer when the other person has the Kindle.

I think it’s high time I checked out some of Victor Gischler’s work, so I’ll be starting there. His books Gun Monkeys and Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: A Novel are both available on the Kindle and should make fine reading on the plane during a trip next month. Incidentally, Go-Go Girls is available on iBooks, as is Vampire a Go-Go, each for the same price as on the Kindle, but again, the wider availability of devices gives the Kindle app the edge and the general functionality appears to be the same. Being able to control the screen brightness from within the app is a nice feature of iBooks, but I’m not sure (yet) that it’s going to be a killer feature.

In any event, the continued fear of digital books from some readers amazes me. I’ll admit it’s counter-intuitive, but I think digital reading is now at least as convenient and comfortable as paper books, if not moreso. People are snapping them up, and now even Borders has jumped on the bandwagon with their own reader. As someone who continued to buy paperbacks while the Wife went digital, I’m now looking forward to trying it myself with both books and comics.

I’m sure I’ll ramble on about it again in the future.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Photo Friday: Going Mobile

I decided to inject a little marketing into this week’s Photo Friday.

Whatever youve got, there we are.

Whatever you've got, there we are.

Thanks to the magic that is Amazon Kindle, you can get a copy of The Pack: Winter Kill on most mobile devices. Here we’ve got a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPod touch, and my wife’s Kindle. If my particular BlackBerry had been supported, I’d have slipped it into the picture, too.

I did a simple photo setup on this one: I arranged the devices, used an old curtain for a backdrop, and bounced the flash off the ceiling. I could probably have used another light source on the touch and the Kindle to brighten them both up, but I didn’t have anything available. (I’d buy some more lighting rigs, but I wouldn’t use them near enough to justify the expense.)

Of course, if you’d rather carry around a few slices of dead tree than a collection of bits, there’s still the paperback edition! All you have to do is order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, take this form to your local retailer, or just wait a few days until I get my bookstore up and running (from which you’ll be able to buy a signed copy direct from my office, ooh ahh).

Okay, pimping and photography done. I need┬á some sleep after last night’s boilermaker outing kept me up ’til the wee hours of this morning.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Un-Zen of Computers

I can’t count the number of people who either beg me for computer help or tell me I should be fixing computers as a side job. Truth be told, I could probably keep busy at it, and bring in a few bucks.

But I’d be miserable.

When someone hands me a computer, they’re not just handing me a chunk of metal, they’re handing me their headache. Sure, I may have a better idea of how to soothe that headache, but it’s a headache for me nonetheless. That computer is just as slow, just as broken, just as virus-riddled for me as it is for them.

People compare computer repair to automotive repair, but this is a bad analogy. Most of the time, the problem with an automobile is mechanical: the mechanic swaps the brakes, replaces the alternator, maybe rebuilds the transmission, and the car’s ready to go. If it were truly like computer repair, the mechanic would swap the brakes and they’d fly apart in a week. He’d replace the alternator, and the battery would stop holding a charge. He’d rebuild the tranny, and third gear would be inexplicably missing. See, when we take out some viruses, they sometimes take part of the system with them. Or they just won’t go away and we have to reinstall from scratch, which is like tearing everything out from under the hood and replacing it all just to fix a funny noise.

There may be Zen in motorcycle engine repair, but there’s nothing Zen about computer repair. There are things that work just fine on one computer, but refuse to work on an identical system because one file you’ll never find got corrupted. It becomes a time suck because you have to reboot every time you try something, and you have to sit and wait for system updates and virus scans to finish (which the user often couldn’t be bothered with). Troubleshooting isn’t detective work, it’s searching Google and praying some poor bastard smarter than you already ran into the problem and found a solution.

Then comes dealing with the human element. Sure, most of them are thrilled their computer’s fixed and are happy to write a check, but every so often you get the assholes. They tell you to go ahead and reinstall Windows and assure you there’s nothing on the system they need, then flip out because junior’s graduation pics were on there. They get the computer back and threaten to throw it out the window because it’s still slow. They expect you to work miracles with their eight-year-old piece of shit and threaten to tell everyone they know that you don’t know what you’re doing.

I deal with enough of that in my day job. Why would I want to invite that into my personal time?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Future of Publishing

A great video for those of you living in fear of digital publishing:

Like it or not, digital publishing is here to stay. The movie and music industries went through it, and now it’s our turn.

Adapt or die.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why Enhanced E-books Will Rock for Students

Penguin has put together a video demonstrating a collection of possible apps for Apple’s iPad and similar tablet devices with touch input and e-book capability. This is very cool stuff:

Once again, I think devices like the iPad will be the best way to go 1:1 with students rather than laptops or netbooks. The simple interface can be manipulated by all age groups, even before the required development for mice and keyboards. They may not be cheaper than netbooks, but they’ll be easier to manage, deploy, and replace, and that may make up for the cost.

We haven’t preordered an iPad at the school I work for yet, but we’d like to see one in action soon.

(For a previous post with a longer rant on why tablet e-books are going to rock, click here.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Hate the Name, Want the iPad

Back on Christmas Eve, I blogged about the things I’d like my comics to do in the future.

Yesterday, Apple gave us the iPad, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before our comics will do all that. The examples in the keynote made it clear that the days of static pages are over. I don’t think there’s any reason to go fully animated for comics (that’s what cartoons are for), but creators will be able to take advantage of slick transitions and other effects that can really enhance the reading — or even the entire storytelling — experience. Guys like comiXology have their app zooming and panning around a comic, but that’s just scratching the surface.

I’m not convinced this will replace the Wife’s beloved Kindle, mostly because I’m not convinced the iPad will be as comfortable to read for long periods (the iPad is backlit, the Kindle is not) or as easy to read outdoors. The Kindle is also cheaper and, at least for the moment, has a much larger selection of books available. (The Kindle DX, however, is toast. The newspaper and magazine outlets wanted a bigger tablet, but they also wanted color, and the DX just doesn’t cut it.)

I wonder, too, what it will do for short prose fiction. If magazines and newspapers are going to go all out developing for this thing, why not anthology magazines or fiction websites? Grab something like the new Crimefactory zine and read it on the go, just like you might for the Kindle. With the iPad, editors could also post video interviews and other extras you may be able to post to the web but you just can’t do on a Kindle.

I don’t see the iPad replacing my laptop (or desktop, for that matter), but I can see it being a great supplement. I love my iPod touch, but I still can’t edit docs on it. With Pages available for the iPad, I can easily use it to edit files, or even create in a pinch while on the road. I’d have to play with the keyboard dock and/or a Bluetooth keyboard to give any real thought to long-form creation on it, such as writing an entire novel, but the real problem is I need the multitasking to be truly functional on it.

That said, the multitasking isn’t a deal killer. I don’t need multitasking on the road, or if I’m lugging it around at a convention. I can prop it up on a table and let it display artwork all day on a 10-hour battery, or hand it to an editor and let him flip through art or page samples. I can also hold and use it like a clipboard with little effort while walking around a con floor or waiting in line somewhere. These would be unwieldy at best with a laptop, even a netbook.

Kiss netbooks goodbye, for that matter. For $100 or so more, I’d much rather have an iPad. Netbooks are underpowered, for the most part, and you’re still wrestling with a laptop form factor only tinier. True multitasking would bog down the iPad, just as it does most netbooks. If I didn’t have a MacBook at work, I’d purchase an iPad for myself and use it as the supplement to my iMac rather than spending double or more on a full-size laptop. I’d much rather carry the iPad on a plane, too. Laptops are a tight fit on those trays, especially if you’re a larger person or if the guy in front of you leans his seat back.

As an educator, I’d much rather put an iPad in the hands of my students in a 1:1 environment. Why?

  1. The cost is less than half of a MacBook and they will be far easier to manage (based on existing iPod/iPhone deployment tools, anyway)
  2. With textbook deals coming, students will be able to carry and read all their books on it
  3. It’s set up for annotation and in-classroom note taking
  4. It will have all the current features of the iPod touch, such as classroom response, apps, iTunesU, and so on
  5. The lack of multitasking keeps students on task (in theory)
  6. Schools will still have labs for multimedia work and things like yearbook and business classes, so heavy-duty composition can be done there

Some say printing may be an issue, but I say no. Just ten years ago, Palm wanted every student to have a Palm device and beam their papers, etc., to the teacher via infrared. If the iPad will dump files to a server store for the teacher, that’s all they need, and is more efficient. This saves on paper (not to mention toner, which, believe me, is a huge expense for a school district), and is less junk for the teacher to haul home to grade.

Our coaches will kill for sports statistic apps on one of these. They carry it along the sidelines and tap a player’s name to tweak their stats. Little to no typing would be required if it’s handled right. Heck, with the right app and programming, they’d have quick access to plays, replays, and field/court diagrams.

As for some of the other criticisms, I think people are being a bit harsh.

Take the bezel, for example. Yeah, it’s pretty big, but given the size of the thing your thumbs will have to overlap the screen to hold it properly, and you’d have a lot of accidental input. Saying you won’t buy this thing because of the bezel is like saying you wouldn’t sleep with Shakira because she has small tits.

No camera? Yeah, kinda sucks. But Apple’s not stupid, so I think there’s a reason for this. I decided to test out a theory and set my MacBook Pro in my lap so the screen would approximate where I’d hold the iPad. I fired up the Photo Booth app, and the following is the first picture I took while holding the screen in a way I can read the display.

Talk about negative space...

Talk about negative space...

Tilt the display so I can see my whole face, and parts of the screen start looking dim. I wouldn’t be able to see the person talking to me very well.

That was taken holding the screen in landscape mode. I turned it on its side and tried again. This one’s a little better…

I can see my brain!

I can see my brain!

…but you can see right up my nose. It’s not exactly the most flattering angle in general. So why include a camera if the only way you can use it is to hold it straight out in front of you? Users would be bitching about their arms getting tired in no time. Yeah, it would work on a dock, but you know most people aren’t going to be buying docks.

A camera on the back wouldn’t be much better. Something that big would be unwieldy to aim, and probably introduce more shake than you’d want with what would amount to a cell phone camera. Again, it would be an opening to more gripes than compliments. You want a tiny, portable camera off your phone? Try a Flip or an iPod nano. Or a real camera like an Elph.

Then there’s the name. The jokes are already all over the Internet, but MadTV already covered this one for us:

“Vaginal firewall protection” indeed. Smooth, Mr Jobs. Tablet or Slate, with or without an i in front of them, would have been much better.

Next there’s the AT&T thing… Even Hitler’s not happy about that one. But can you blame him? We couldn’t get decent AT&T coverage where I live if our lives depended on it. You would think Apple learned their lesson with all the iPhone complaints. But hey, at least they found people a cheaper data plan. Dump a USB cellular modem and the iPad pays for itself in about a year and a half.

Another reason I think this thing is going to do well is the interface. I’ve played with an iPod touch for a while now, and it still amazes me how easy it is to use. I taught the Midget to use it in all of ten seconds, and he in turn taught the Squirt — who was four at the time — how to do the same thing. With no input from me, they were switching apps and playing games like pros. Even my three-year-old daughter effortlessly dumps pygmies off the island in Pocket God, then creates more so she can do it again.

The interface is what killed previous generations of tablets, whether we’re talking about the Newton or the round of tablets the PC industry tried to foist on us around 2000-2002. (They tried to foist them off on the education sector, anyway.) They were unwieldy, heavy, buggy, and in many cases you had to have a stylus, which itself was just an afterthought bolted on to Windows. Handwriting recognition may have been huge in its day, but you had to learn your way around its idiosyncrasies, especially when they revamped the input alphabet like Palm did. Handwriting recognition was just too inconsistent from user to user, but anyone can learn to swipe.

That said, I’m still intrigued by Microsoft’s Surface. It shows they’ve put a lot more thought into touch technology, and if they integrate the touch features into their new tablet devices, I may be willing to give it a second glance. It’s just tough to be positive after the horrible (IMHO) WinMo interface on most of their mobile devices. (5 minutes with a Sprint Mogul was enough to ensure I’d never go anywhere near one again, and I just needed to make a phone call.)

I know there’s probably going to be a better version out within six months of releasing this one. I know I’m paying into a closed system. But damn it, I want one of these.

Pass the Apple Kool-Aid.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Kindle in the House

I bought the Wife a Kindle for Christmas. She’s only had it in her hands for about an hour, but she’s already fallen in love with it.

And shes reading The Pack: Winter Kill, of course!

And she's downloaded my stuff already, of course!

I debated waiting, but with reviews iffy on the Nook and both the Wife and I already hooked into Amazon, it made sense to go ahead and pull the trigger. I think the only thing that may trump the Kindle at this point would be the much-rumored Apple tablet/iSlate, but I seriously doubt the price point will be as low as the Kindle’s. There’s a good chance I’d be able to purchase a tablet/iSlate at work for evaluation anyway.

I think my wife will be a good test of the true usability of the device. She’s not tech stupid by any stretch, but she’s also not a tech enthusiast. Technology is a tool to her, nothing more, and if it’s a pain in the ass to use, she’s not going to mess with it. She’s also a voracious reader who will sometimes go back and re-read books simply because she hasn’t had time to visit a bookstore or hasn’t bothered to place an Amazon order. She reads on the couch, at the kitchen table, and in bed, so she’ll test it in a variety of environments.

Her initial reactions have been favorable. She’d only seen the Sony reader’s screen in the past, and she immediately noticed the Kindle’s has better contrast and faster response times. She’s found the interface intuitive, she hasn’t once come to me to help her find or do something, and she’s already downloaded two books (including The Pack: Winter Kill, of course) and explored how bookmarking works.

In fact, she’s been coming up with potential problems and has been attacking them, only to discover the folks at Amazon have already anticipated these problems. She probably knows more about the Kindle than I do at this point.

Next we’ll see how she feels about it after using it for a couple of weeks.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

I Want My Comics To Do This

Check out this Sports Illustrated example of what a magazine could look like on a tablet computer like the rumored Apple tablet/Slate/iPad/├╝bergadget:

I would love to have a platform like this to work with comics. Not necessarily as a replacement for floppies, but imagine the extras you can pack in to a graphic novel, comics anthology, or even a complete set (or subset) of a given publisher’s weekly comics. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Animated sequences or alternate paths/endings (think Choose Your Own Adventure)
  • Swipe-through pin-up galleries (with more pin-ups)
  • Bring back the letters page with more complete fan-generated content like videos
  • Bonus content such as creator profiles with video and/or audio & photos
  • Bonus story content like character profiles, references to previous issues, histories, games, etc.
  • Behind-the-scenes content such as pencils, inks, and other “process” features
  • Dynamic layout control (think different ways to lead a reader’s eye through the story)
  • Zoomable panels/pages for “hidden” content, such as clues, gags, or Easter eggs
  • Moveable POVs and changing perspectives within a panel (including using this as a method to lead the reader through the story)
  • Word balloon and caption toggling (instant silent comic, whether for the story or to savor the artwork)
  • Grabbing pages, panels, splashes, etc., as screensavers and wallpapers for the reader device or other devices owned by the reader
  • Premium editions that might be ad-free, or feature separate bonus content

Whatever the final content included, the key is the publishers and creators are no longer limited to page counts and printing costs, and in many cases, margins won’t be sacrificed to distributors and to shipping costs. Instead, more of the start-up money goes where it belongs: into content creation. Under the traditional publishing model, the creators get a small slice of the pie, which is a shame given the content they create is what generates the sales in the first place.

As for distributing this new content, there are plenty of options. Guys like Robot Comics are already doing exciting things on the small-screen digital market, but a “full-size”, dedicated e-reader opens up many more possibilities. Content subscriptions could be pushed out just as magazines and newspapers are with the Kindle. Intermediaries like iVerse and comiXology can handle indirect distribution, and larger publishers can probably host items directly (not to mention make use of the iPhone App Store, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble’s online store).

Where does that leave comic shops, you ask? I hear you, I’d hate to see my favorite shops like Amazing Fantasy, Graham Crackers, Darktower, and Comix Connection take a nosedive, too.

For starters, they’ve got a while before they have to sweat because print’s probably not going anywhere any time soon. Despite the success of the Kindle and the sudden proliferation of e-readers, we’re not seeing any decrease in the appearance of print books, are we? Digital distribution may finally have put a dent in music CD sales, but we’re certainly not seeing empty CD racks at Best Buy and Borders. Retailers still sell the hell out of DVDs, and while most games are available digitally, we’re not seeing the game shops in a panic yet. There’s also no reason the shops couldn’t help distribute the digital content, just like Barnes & Nobel plans to do with the Nook at its brick & mortar stores.

Even if digital distribution did put a major dent in the print sales, there’s still going to be a niche market for print (think of all the people still seeking out 8 tracks, and the recent resurgence in vinyl interest). Purists will pay a premium for print, and this is where your signed, limited editions come in. Include color plates, hand-written material, and so on, and you’ve got a product fans will seek. An increase in margin would help offset the loss in volume, and still bring people in for the rest of the stuff.

Which brings us to the next item: merchandising. Fans are going to need a place to pick up t-shirts, action figures, and other tchotchkes the content tends to generate.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s the cultural connection. The best comic shops have a reason for people to show up there and talk comics, including signings and special events like 24 Hour Comics Day. They host gaming tournaments, or they play host to podcasters and media folks like Darktower hosts the Around Comics guys. The cooler publishers and creators will play it smart, using comic shops to host launch parties and similar celebrations, simultaneously pleasing their fans and supporting the shops.

Is it all that easy? Hell, I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here, but it would be a shame to have these shiny new toys and still see publishers just handing us the same static content and 22-page story fragments.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

No Nookie for You

I went into a Barnes & Noble this evening and spotted stacks of Nook eReader pamphlets at the information desk and near the registers. I picked one up and an employee was all too eager to tell me more about it. There’s just one problem: the Nook is already sold out through the end of the year.

Not too bad for a product that, by some accounts, should be dead before it even launched.

I should probably qualify that statement. The people I run into who claim the e-book “fad” won’t last are all bibliophiles. They don’t just read books, they collect them. I will readily admit that I’m as much a collector — or at least an accumulator — of bits of dead trees stamped with ink and glued/sewn together myself, so I don’t fault them for it. However, it doesn’t take a big brain to figure out e-books are here to stay.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are playing their cards close to the vest, so it’s tough to say how many units they’ve actually sold. However, with every major publisher and many smaller presses on the bandwagon, it’s tough to believe they aren’t doing well. Keep in mind, the Nook not only sold out before the holidays, but it sold out in pre-order. They have yet to get a physical unit into anyone’s hands, including reviewers’, and they’ve still sold every unit scheduled to ship out of the factory. That’s the kind of scenario every business dreams of.

The bibliophiles may dismiss electronic books, and the e-readers may have their shortcomings for the moment, but it amazes me the variety of demographic I’ve seen for these things. Technophiles are among the first in line, of course, but I’ve also seen some other writers and book lovers toting them around. I know of schools buying units for classrooms, including elementary grades. There are colleges putting them in the hands of incoming students. At work, we’ve got a retired teacher who can’t say enough about her Kindle, and she can barely negotiate her way around the Windows desktop. She subbed in our junior high building one day and had all of the other teachers drooling over her shiny white e-reader in its little leather folder. My wife and my mom both tear through novels and could care less what happens to the actual books after they read them. They’re both waiting to see if and how Amazon responds to the Nook’s color LCD, and they’ll both most likely own one or the other sometime next year.

E-books are a win-win for voracious readers. They can carry most of their library with them, and they get instant gratification when searching for a title. If they get 100 pages into a book and decide it’s garbage, with just a couple of clicks they’re reading a different book, even if they’re sitting in the park or riding on a bus or train. I hear the bibliophiles complain about battery life issues, but I have yet to hear a Kindle owner offer up any real complaints about it beyond “Eh, I’ll plug it in when I get home.”

From a writer’s perspective, why ignore them? I’ve talked to a couple of guys now who could care less if their books are on the Kindle because they think e-books won’t last (see bibliophiles above). Okay, let’s say Amazon sold 50,000 units. I have no idea how close or far from reality that is, but it’s a nice, round number. That’s 50,000 people who are going to visit a dedicated store that will be stocking your book. You don’t have to sweat which chains are in their neighborhood and whether or not their local store is stocking your book. You don’t have to worry about whether or not they shop at a local indie store that may or may not have ever heard of your or have shelf space for your book.

Yes, you still have to make these 50,000 people aware of your book, but isn’t that better than having to make them aware of the book and having to make an effort to get it stocked? What makes the book more likely for them to stumble upon: Amazon’s Recommended, Also Bought, and Also Browsed links and thumbnails, or your book sitting spine-out among a sea of other spine-out books? Even if only 1% of those 50,000 people read the kind of material you produce, you’ve just made your book easier to find with zero effort.

Sure, it’s still supplemental at this point, and I realize the overwhelming majority of readers are still purchasing dead trees. The Barnes & Noble was packed tonight, and obviously they weren’t buying Nooks and e-books. That’s why The Pack: Winter Kill will have both a Kindle Edition and the imminent trade paperback edition. It’s not smart to ignore the e-book market, but it’s suicidal to ignore the dead tree markets.

Will that hold true in five years, though? Or ten? When they get the technology behind a vibrant color display with the same battery life as the existing grayscale displays and the costs start coming down, I imagine a lot of trees will be breathing a deep sigh of relief.

Hmm… I wonder if the Sierra Club has made that connection yet?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.