Tag: Amazon

Want a tablet? Choose your vendor lock-in.

Ever wondered why Mozilla’s Firefox web browser exists? It’s because about 10 years ago Microsoft had sewn-up about 90% of the market and was creating vendor lock-in through anti-competitive practices. You can read about this in the History of the Mozilla Project. Happily, Mozilla were successful and now there’s at least two high-quality alternatives to Microsoft Internet Explorer – which itself has become more aligned with web standards. It’s a win for everyone who uses the web.

The next battleground is mobile. Although Google’s Android mobile Operating System (OS) is billed as ‘open’, for example, it’s not really developed in the usual Open Source way: the source code tends to be released long after each iteration of the OS. Apple, meanwhile, maintains a notoriously closed ecosystem with a stringent procedure for inclusion in their App Store. They also control how you can get things on and off iOS devices in order to make money from the iTunes store.

Amazon, meanwhile, is a fairly new to the mobile device game. They’ve taken Android and significantly modified it – including defaulting to their own app store. They’ve slashed the price of the Kindle Fire 2 (with, cleverly, ‘special offers and sponsored screensavers’) for Black Friday* making it a loss-leader. They’re betting on making the money back through Kindle book purchases, Amazon Prime subscriptions, and Lovefilm streaming.

So even though we may have multiple vendors it’s essentially similar problem to the Internet Explorer issue ten years ago. You may get shiny new ways to consume things that the vendor is selling you, but it’s not a great situation, overall.

You want a tablet? For Christmas 2012 that means you’re going to need to choose your vendor lock-in.

Thankfully, all this is set to change in 2013. Why? Two reasons. First, Mozilla are working on Firefox OS built entirely of standards-based web technologies. Secondly, Ubuntu Linux is being developed for mobile devices like the Nexus 7 and (even more excitingly) you’ll soon be able to run an entire desktop OS from your docked smartphone.

My conclusion? Buy a tablet if you have to, but be aware that real choice is around the corner…

(this was an attempt to write my version of the NSFW (but excellent) post by Terence Eden)

*The cynical nature of this marketing ploy is bad enough when tied to American Thanksgiving. It’s even worse when standing alone in the UK context.

Image CC BY-SA tribehut

#amazonfail: a perspective

I woke up to hashtag-tweetstorm of controversy this morning. Amazon are selling this book:

#amazonfail

I’m a parent of a 3 year-old, a member of his school’s PTA, and was, in my previous role, responsible for child e-safety. Just like 99.9% of people on the planet, I find this material extremely objectionable and dangerous. But then I’m not overly-fond of Amazon selling books on how to make pipe bombs and smuggle cocaine (which are also available if you look hard enough).

The hashtag #amazonfail, like other hashtags, became a rallying call for people to expend 140 characters of horror against big business not protecting us from such awful things. Amazon have now taken the book down yet people are still baying for blood and talking about a boycott. Unfortunately many are confusing the source of the book (author) with the conduit (Amazon).

I’m fully expecting to be castigated by those seeing themselves as ‘defenders of children’ but I’ll say it anyway:

A bookstore offered a book for sale that’s abhorrent to the majority of the population. Like the BNP appearing on a BBC pre-election debate, it seems that people are all for free speech – so long as they agree with those doing the speaking.

To be honest, as a parent and educator there are many other things I find more immediately disturbing to my everyday life. Take, for example, taxpayers’ money being used to  set up an Educational Endowment Fund instead of free school meals for the poorest children in our society. Or, how about £500,000 being spent by Michael Gove on a former adviser to set up a Free School advisory body? I’ll not even mention the fact we haven’t had a proper debate about the purpose of education in this country during my lifetime.

Some things are easy to cry out against. It’s the things that are more difficult to protest about effectively that we need to collectively focus upon.

Glowing first review of #uppingyourgame!

First (5-star!) review of #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity on the Kindle store:

I have a very busy life and am always on the lookout for ways of improving productivity; both to enable me to be more productive at work and the by product of being able to spend more time with my family. My rss reader has the usual array of lifehacker-type feeds and I enjoy implementing new technologies into my day to day life. This book explains the meaning of productivity and motivation before leading you through a variety of tools that you can readily implement. Doug describes in his “getting on & doing” chapter not just productivity enhancers, but also productivity killers and what to do in times of adversity. I found a number of tools that I already use in my day to day life and work in the Productivity 2.0 chapter, but there were some new ones that have already made into my life. “Helping make others more productive” was particularly thought provoking for me; this is always inherently challenging. This is a well-written and accessible guide that will have a practical positive impact on your life. (Steve Margetts)

Last week I launched my first paid-for eBook. I’ve been working on #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity since the beginning of the year, with almost 50 people buying into the book before it was even published thanks to the OpenBeta process!

Now that’s it’s finished I’ve made it available at the following very reasonable prices in these formats:

£6.99 Kindle format (no images) Buy now with 1-Click

£7.99 PDF (full-colour with images) Add to Cart

£9.99 paperback (full-colour cover) Buy paperback at Lulu

If you haven’t had a look already head over to http://dougbelshaw.com/ebooks to discover how to become an affiliate and earn 50% commission! 😀

Read what I’ve read: 2009 edition.

CC BY-SA gadl

For some reason I didn’t do this last year – post which books I’ve read for pleasure over the last 12 months, coupled with a short review. And my 2007 version seems to be sans images now. Oh well. I’ll do it properly this year! Note that these books aren’t those I’ve read for my Ed.D. thesis – you can see those over at my wiki (along with notes)

Here, in chronological order, are the books I’ve read this year (click on images to see them at Amazon UK). If you’re impatient, scroll to the bottom for my absolute must-have book, one that I’ll be re-reading for the rest of my life!

Eggers - You Shall Know Our Velocity

Dave Eggers – You Shall Know Our Velocity (2-15 January)

After reading nothing but positive reviews for all of Eggers’ work, I thought this was a fairly safe bet to start off my year. Despite finishing it, however, I was left thinking it was nothing more than average and ‘not my sort of book’. He had some interesting observations at times, but it certainly wasn’t re-readable, for me.

Murdoch - Sovereignty of Good

Iris Murdoch – The Sovereignty of Good (16-22 January)

This consists of three essays. I though the first two were thought-provoking, whilst the third not so much. Not really one for non-philosophically trained folk.

Gombrich - A Little History of the World

E.H. Gombrich – A Little History of the World (22 January  – 10 February)

Absolutely marvellous. One for children and adults alike and one that, as a (sometime) teacher of History, I wish had been available in an English translation when I was young. Utterly re-readable. 🙂

Csikszentmihaly - 'Flow: the psychology of optimal experience'

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Flow: the psychology of optimal experience (11-26 February)

A life-changing book. Not only did change the direction of my Ed.D. thesis (I’m going to be investigating ‘digital flow’ now) but will illuminate my thinking and actions in everyday life. Instant classic!

Rand - 'Anthem'

Ayn Rand – Anthem (1 March)

This novella promised much. It had been referenced several times in things I’d read, so I thought I should read the original. It was disappointing. 🙁

Joseph Cummins – History’s Great Untold Stories: obscure events of lasting importance (2-26 March)

The tragedy of 2009 for me was when Borders, my favourite bookstore chain, went into administration. At the beginning of the year it offered this at half-price in one of its London stores (I was down for a meeting with Nick Dennis, who also availed himself of the opportunity). It was an eye-opening read: some stuff of which I’d never even heard which had a huge bearing on history. Essential.

Sun Tzu – The Art of War (27-28 March)

Again, a book that is referenced often but which disappointed. Didn’t find much in the way of inspiration or advice within it.

John Burrow – A History of Histories (29 March – 12 May)

Overly academic in places, but overall an interesting and informative read. Probably only for lovers of History.

Georgina Harding – The Solitude of Thomas Cave (13-22 May)

Easily the best of the works of fiction I read this year. The story of a man left behind in the cold. Really different, interesting (and relatively short!)

Clay Shirky – Here Comes Everybody (June sometime)

A great explanation of how social media has changed everything. Not only interesting in and of itself, but useful to give to people who don’t ‘get it’.

Joseph Cummins – Cast Away: Epic true stories of shipwreck, piracy and mutiny on the high seas (June – 14 July)

After enjoying the author’s History’s Great Untold Stories: obscure events of lasting importance I was delighted to find two more of his works (in a similar format) on offer. Perfect bedtime reading. 😀

Joseph Cummins – Great Rivals in History: when politics gets personal (15 July – 8 September)

I enjoyed this as the format is perfect for bedtime reading, but I’d recommend Cummins’ other two above this particular one. A useful background to stuff I already knew, nonetheless.

Seth Godin – Tribes (11 August)

Just like his blog posts. Eminently readable, empowering, and with a call to action for leaders (i.e. everyone!)

Brian Clegg – A Brief Guide of Infinity: the quest to think the unthinkable (20 August – 2 September)

Mind-expanding. I can’t say better than that!

Ann Patchett – Bel Canto (10-11 September)

This book won several prizes, and so I was looking forward to it. However, the author’s style began to grate and, after a while where nothing much happened, I gave up on it.

Edward Said – Beginnings: intention and method (12-29 September)

I got about half-way through this before I realised I didn’t really understand any of it and gave up. Far too heavy for (predominantly) bedtime reading. 🙁

Joseph Conrad – Nostromo (30 September – 3 October)

Really high hopes for this after enjoying Conrad’s Heart of Darkness last year. However, it was depressing and written in a slightly different style. Gave up.

C Leadbeater – We-Think: mass innovation, not mass production (3-15 October)

Poorly written and researched and, overall, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Avoid.

Michel Faber – The Fahrenheit Twins (16-26 October)

A wonderful find. It was in the absolutely-last-chance-don’t-miss-it-these-are-the-books-we-haven’t-been-able-to-sell-in-years section of a discount bookstore. I think it cost me about 49p. It was, however, really, really good! Stories from the margins of society and the last one (which gives the book it’s title) is downright bizarre. Recommended! :-p

Peter Watson – Ideas: a History from Fire to Freud (19 October – 29 December)

The author is a Professor of Archaeology and you can tell. The start is much better than the rest – which isn’t too bad itself – but he’s best when not having to rely on other people’s work. Fairly polemical towards the end.

Haruki Murakami – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (8 November)

Truly inspirational. Murakami, in a humble way, talks about how he’s been wildly successful as well as the synergy between his life as a runner and his life as a writer. Superb.


It’s been mostly non-fiction for me in 2009 – I plan to remedy that in 2010. 🙂

There’s been one book that, despite not being very long, I’ve been reading since June. The reason? I don’t want it to end!  Schopenhauer described it as,”Absolutely unique . . . a book made for constant use—a companion for life,” whilst Nietzsche commented, “Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety.” It really is a gem.

And the name of this book?

The Art of Worldly Wisdom, published in the 17th century by the Jesuit scholar Balthasar Gracián consists of 300 maxims. You can view the full text at Google Docs but I really would recommend purchasing your own inexpensive copy. It really is, as Schopenhauer says, ‘a companion for life’! 😀

10 things people like me want for Christmas.

Christmas hollyApparently I’m ‘hard to buy for’. I probably don’t make it easier for people by proclaiming – quite rightly, I think – that if you have to ask people what they want for a birthday or Christmas then it’s not really a ‘gift’ as such.

I usually relent (slightly) by pointing family and friends to my Amazon wishlist. As you can see, I’ve been adding a lot of books related to infographics recently. But what about if you know someone a bit like me – someone ‘hard to buy for’ who’s into education, technology and the like? What should you go for? Well, my wishlist is a start, but here’s 10 definite recommendations. I’ve placed them in order of how much they cost – clicking on the image will take you Amazon to purchase them.*

1. Indexed (Jessica Hagy) – £4.58

Jessica creates graphs and diagrams on index cards ‘weekday mornings as the coffee brews’. A great book to have either on the coffee table or, dare I say it, in your toilet for casual reading. I find her blog hilarious at times.

2. The Power of Less (Leo Babauta) – £5.21

The author of this book writes one of my favourite blogs, Zen Habits. If the book is anything near as good as the amazingly practical advice Leo gives on his blog then this will actually do what it says on the front – i.e. ‘change your life’.

3. Ignore Everybody (Hugh McLeod) – £10.03

Hugh McLeod is a great guy. Acerbic, but great. Many of his gapingvoid cartoons adorn both my office and home study. In this book he expands on the ideas that he draws on the back of business cards.

4. Very Short Introductions (The Picture Box) – £12.47

The Very Short Introductions series is excellent. Concise, scholarly, readable introductions to topics that would usually take a university course to even begin to comprehend. I highly recommend them. I’m into design and infographics at the moment (which is why I chose this one) but I haven’t read a bad one yet!

5. Logitech Alto Express Laptop Stand – £12.99

It’s a piece of curved plastic with rubberized ends, but one of the single best accessories I’ve ever bought. I use a Macbook Pro as my main machine and it really does make using it so much more comfortable!

6. Hitchcock DVD box set – £17.99

This really is such a bargain – 14 classic films for £17.99! This is the only item on this list that I already own. Quality. (N.B. Amazon say this will take ‘3-5 weeks’ to deliver – just go for one of the ‘Used & New’ options, which may be even cheaper!)

7. Colloquial Icelandic (Audio CD) – £23.67

Not only does speaking a rather random language mark you out as ‘interesting’, but learning Icelandic means being able to read the sagas in their original form! But seriously, this was recommended to me as a fantastic example of how to structure learning and teach difficult concepts and content.

8. The Complete Far Side (Gary Larson) – £62.72

Despite it being almost 15 years since Gary Larson retired from drawing his Far Side series of cartoons, they’re as popular as ever. This compendium includes all those Larson has drawn. According to the Amazon reviews it’s impressive both in form and content!

9. Flip Mino HD camcorder – £119.99

This really is the world’s easiest-to-use camcorder. One big red button for start/stop recording. Preview on wide screen to rear, then press the button to ‘flip’ out the USB connector to attach it to you computer. I’ve got one similar to this at work. It’s legendary.

10. Asus Eee PC 1008HA ‘Seashell’ netbook – £280.52

I’ve had a few netbooks in the time they’ve been available, and the Asus Eee range has always been the most reliable and aesthetically pleasing. The 1008HA ‘Seashell’ is no exception – gorgeously thin and very mobile. Oh, and you can always ditch Windows and go with Linux. :-p

Some other (non-Amazon) ideas

* There’s an affiliate link in there which will earn me 4% commission. What? You thought I was doing this out of the kindness of my heart? Bah, humbug! 😉

Embracing the future: why I’ve ditched MP3s and signed up to Spotify Premium

Spotify logo

Image BY-NC Rsms @ Flickr

I like music. A lot. I listen to as much as I can as I believe it makes me more productive.* As a student I worked in HMV at Meadowhall in Sheffield and bought a prodigious amount of CDs. When I did my MA in Modern History I sold many of them to fund my living expenses, but still many remained. I hadn’t ripped them all to MP3 but still had around 100GB of my 250GB taken up with MP3s. I deleted all of that today, leaving only my downloaded podcasts:

iTunes data

After my week of divesting the only CDs that aren’t in boxes ready to be sent off to Music Magpie or Amazon customers are those (nine) that I’ve decided to keep as artwork.** I signed up for a Spotify Premium account the day after their iPhone app became available. It costs £9.99 per month to upgrade from the Free account. For that you get, amongst other things, the usage of their iPhone app (which doesn’t work with a Free account), a higher streaming bitrate and no advertisements.

That’s not to say that Spotify features every album and every piece of music that I’ve ever listened to. But I reckon that they’ve got about 90% of the stuff I search for. That’s good enough for me, especially given my eclectic, ever-changing taste in music and the fact they add thousands more track to their library every week – check out their blog!

The streaming model makes sense. Now that a decently-fast internet connection is available to me pretty much everywhere I go, there’s no need for me to manually sync and carry around with me a partial collection of music I like. Much better to have access to a much bigger collection everywhere I am. 🙂

Of course, there are times when your internet connection isn’t so good (or even non-existent). It’s for these times that Spotify has made playlists that you create available offline. Up to 3,333 tracks can be cached for offline play at any one time. That’s certainly enough for me!

Finally, then, there’s the problem of making Spotify’s vast library user-friendly. A start has been made via SpotifiTunes (see my library here) which takes your iTunes XML file and creates a list of Spotify links. Wanting an up-to-date version of this, I’ve created a workspace on my wiki dedicated to this. To access this, click on the ‘Music’ link at the top of this blog or click here!

What do YOU think about Spotify and the like? Will you be signing up any time soon? 😀

* I recommend you read Lifehacker’s The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done

** See CD wall tiles @ IWOOT)

‘Flow’ and the waste of free time

flow_bookHaving twice got the classic work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience out of Durham University Library and having it twice recalled before I got a chance to read it, I decided to just go ahead and buy the book. It’s a very famous work, cited in almost everything I read – despite the fact that the author, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, has an almost-unpronounceable surname…

Upon its arrival from Amazon, I eagerly opened and flicked through Flow. Just as sometimes you’re sitting in an audience and you feel that the speaker is talking directly to you, so it was with the section ‘The Waste of Free Time’ (p.162-3). Here’s my abridgement of that short section. Do you recognise yourself in it? I do!

Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate, and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

The tremendous leisure industry that has arisen in the last few generations has been designed to help fill our free time with enjoyable experiences. Nevertheless, instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we got to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.

The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide for enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons – such as the wish to flaunt one’s status – are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

Most jobs and many leisure activities – especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media – are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving us only feeble husks.

Eloquently put, I’m sure you’ll agree! It reminded me somewhat of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of the vision it conjures of a mass ‘citizenry’ obediently doing what the guiding voice behind the media they consume tell them to do.

It’s a wake-up call for me. Instead of spending money on gadgetry that allow me to consume mass media at an ever-increasing rate, I’m going to focus on creativity and meaning-making. For me, that will mostly be in a written format because of my interests and talents. But, you never know, it may stray into areas musical as well… 😀

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Amazon MP3 launches, not for UK

amazonmp3

Amazon.com have launched a Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free online music store. Unlike Apple’s iTunes music store, music can be played on any device and, wait for it… it’s actually cheaper per song! Although the number of tracks available is currently somewhat limited, more music is likely to be added soon.

I’d love to buy music from Amazon MP3, but I can’t. It would seem you have to be a US citizen to purchase music in this way as I was unable to using my current credit card billing address. Hopefully it will be extended to Amazon UK soon. Read more →

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